Call it a case of philanthropy gone bad.
Last year, two Hamilton Realtors offered to donate two acres of land to the city of Hamilton for construction of a new swimming pool. The old swimming pool on Main Street was built in the 1950s and had become a money pit to city taxpayers.
After the city agreed to accept the land from Realtors Vicky Bohlig and Shirley Dowling, and their company, Vision Enterprises, a committee of local citizens got together to devise a method of paying for a new pool, estimated at $2.5 million.
Last June, with the promise of free land, the committee convinced voters in the Hamilton and Corvallis school districts to foot $1.8 million of the total construction costs through a bond issue.
Construction was set to begin last fall, and perennial state swim meet champs, the Bitterroot Swim Team, would have had their new pool by the summer of 2002.
Then the whole project, good intentions notwithstanding, fell apart. Last January Western Security Bank foreclosed on Vision Enterprises for defaulting on payments on a 36-acre parcel of land—a parcel that included the two acres to be deeded to the city.
Also named as defendants were Ravalli County, which recorded the city’s resolution of intent to accept the donated land, and the newly created Hamilton/Corvallis Parks District which was approved by the voters at the same time they voted for the bond issue.
Though the county and parks district will likely be dismissed as defendants, the city is now left with the public’s desire for a new swimming pool—a desire they were willing to back with higher taxes—and nowhere to put it.
“We’re dry-docked, I guess you could say,” says city finance administrator Dale Huhtanen.
Though the bond issue was approved, the bonds were never actually sold, so taxpayers won’t see the increase on their tax statements.
As far as the land search is concerned, “We’ve still got a couple of irons in the fire,” Huhtanen says.
Last week, city officials spoke with an unnamed private foundation that funds park projects. Huhtanen says the state may fund sidewalks out to the undeveloped Hieronymous Park on Hamilton’s north side, and if the foundation grants money towards further development, the swimming pool could be located there. The city also is talking to the Corvallis School District, which owns land that could accommodate a pool, and a church, which has tentatively offered to sell or lease land to the city.
In the meantime, city officials have agreed to squeeze one more year out of the old pool on Main Street.