Peters Township’s 2020 budget is poised to include money for the design of a new aquatic center at the future Rolling Hills Park.
During a Nov. 18 township council meeting, four of the seven members said they favored including the item in next year’s spending plan, following a discussion about the results of a market study to determine the viability of a municipal swimming facility.
“The results of the survey seem to be this is something the taxpayers want. To me, it seems like this is what should go in first, because this is the centerpiece of the park. This is what you’re going to see as you come in off East McMurray Road,” Frank Kosir Jr., council chairman, said about the former Rolling Hills Country Club property.
Agreeing with him were councilmen David Ball, James Berquist and Robert Lewis. Not offering support were Frank Arcuri, Monica Merrell and Gary Stiegel Jr.
“Just because you design it doesn’t mean it has to be built immediately,” township manager Paul Lauer said. “And it isn’t like that would be a wasted effort if you decide to go ahead in that direction, whether you build it the following year or the year after that, because that design isn’t going to be lost.”
He said that the market study drew 364 responses from Peters residents out of 1,500 surveys distributed by Strip District consulting firm Campos.
“They’re indicating a 95 percent confidence level, which means it’s plus or minus 5 percent in terms of the findings,” Lauer explained.
The results are weighted, with indications of residents “definitely” making use of the aquatic center counting as half a positive response, “very likely” as one-quarter and “probably” as one-tenth.
“Even when you do that, what you see in these results is overwhelming support for the pool in terms of expressed interest in either buying memberships or doing daily admissions,” Lauer said.
He also addressed suggestions, particularly from Ball, to consider some type of design that would allow for a pool’s use for more than three months each year.
“I think there may be an opportunity to have an element of this aquatic center that’s actually indoors,” he said. “If you look at the design that was proposed for the pool, there is a lap pool that is in the center of it.”
That component, he asserted, could be configured in a way that shields it from the weather.
“I’m not convinced yet that it can operate 12 months out of the year, but we can certainly give that a try,” Lauer said. “Even if that were not possible, what it would allow you to do is to expand the summer reach of the aquatic center.”
In conjunction with a spray park also proposed for the site, the season could stretch from the start of May through October.
“My only hesitation is, I don’t see any municipality who has done this. So I have nowhere to go to see a model to understand what the cost of that is,” Lauer explained.
He said that, along with major capital projects involving the development of Rolling Hills Park, there should be “sufficient funds to undertake the design of the pool” within the proceeds of the township’s recent $10 million bond issue.
His recommendation is to wait until bids from some of the other projects are received before embarking on the aquatic center design.
“We should be in a position, I would think, by late spring to know what all those bids are and to know whether those funds are available,” he said.
A major expenditure is for construction of Rolling Hills Drive, which will wind through the property to connect East McMurray and Center Church roads. The municipality is splitting the cost with Peters Township School District, which has a new high school under construction on the western half of the former country club, with the intent of moving students and staff members in at the start of 2021.
Building the southern portion of Rolling Hills Drive, which includes the reconfiguring of East McMurray Road, is contingent of permits from the state Department of Transportation.
“What we have been told most recently from PennDOT is the responses to our sixth review will be to us no later than Dec. 5,” Lauer said. But in his opinion and that of township director of engineering Mark Zemaitis, “We are far enough along in that approval process that we would feel comfortable being able to send the project out to bid.”
“The goal is to bid it out this winter, with hopefully an April construction start,” Zemaitis responded.
Permitting also is necessary from the state Department of Environmental Resources with regard to a waterway, near East McMurray Road, part of which now flows through a pipe.
“We’re taking 500 feet of enclosed stream and opening it up. One would deduce that that is environmentally friendly,” Zemaitis said. “We just need to get to a comfort level where there are no major design changes to go out to bid.”
Also during the council workshop, architects Robert Genter of Mackin Engineering Co. and Mark Duane of Hayes Design Group, the two firms working collaboratively on Rolling Hills Park’s design, discussed certain elements of the project.
They enlightened council members about such features as the 4,000-foot “loop road” – its official name has yet to be selected – providing access to park amenities, a public works maintenance building, restrooms and pavilions.
Council adopted a master plan for Rolling Hills Park, incorporating about 90 acres, in early 2017. At that time, the cost estimate to implement everything included in the plan was $28.27 million.
No timetable, though, has been established regarding when and/or if the entirety would be addressed. The focus at this point is laying the groundwork.
“One thing about this project is there’s going to be a substantial amount of money invested in infrastructure that will allow for the future development of the park,” Lauer said.
A preliminary draft of Peters Township’s 2020 operating budget and capital improvement program is available at www.peterstownship.com.