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City council explores new waters

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A request for proposal (RFP) regarding the scope of work for the potential operations of Roswell’s Recreation and Aquatic Center was presented to the full City Council Thursday night and passed with a 7-2 vote.

City councilors Tabitha Denny, Caleb Grant, Art Sandoval, Savino Sanchez, Steve Henderson, Jeanine Corn Best, and Natasha Mackey voted to approve the RFP, while Barry Foster and Juan Oropesa voted no.

Councilor Mackey made a motion to consider approval for the scope of work specified in the proposal in order to solicit operation management firms for the aquatic center. Councilor Henderson seconded the motion.

Seeking information

City Attorney Aaron Holloman said the vote could be considered an advertisement for potential firms, if the city chooses an outside managing company.

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Elizabeth Gilbert, director of administrative services, said the city’s current recreation staff is not capable of operating the center’s aquatic side, which will include new rules and regulations for operating the indoor and outdoor pools and equipment.

After speaking with management firms and working with current recreation staff, Gilbert said the RFP would provide the city a way to gather information about pricing, and decide how they would like to operate the aquatic center from other operation firms.

Gilbert said the RFP has the following four goals: safety, customer service, programming, and promotion.

Gilbert said the aquatic center could run through the means of a sole firm’s operation, partial service partnering with the city, or by training future employees.

Gilbert said if the city chose to operate the center on their own, they would not need an RFP. Outside training could provide expertise for the staff regarding lifeguard training, program creation, equipment maintenance, regulations, membership programs structures, custodial, and customer services, she said.

This process would create a range of options and pricing information before the RFP is ready in May. Gilbert said this is first step in a long process to have the costs ready to add to the city budget.

Gilbert also said recreation staff is hoping to run its basketball program at the recreation center in October and have the facility fully open early 2019.

“Regardless of the firm, the city needs time as well,” Gilbert said. “We have to complete training. A lot of these things are not just fancy words — we have to do them.”

The RFP went before the Parks and Recreation Commission and the General Services Committee last month.

Councilor responses

From the discussion, councilors had varied views on supporting the proposal.

“City employees will have a vested interest in the equipment and the facility — that kind of thing,” Oropesa said, “When you contract out, in my opinion, you are probably paying more than what it could cost us to run the facility ourselves.”

Oropesa said he was wary due to what he called a debacle with Cahoon Park Pool management not raising flags before the pool became a safety issue and hoped a future firm would be held more accountable.

Grant showed his support and said the proposal was time sensitive to act on information received. Grant asked about city’s vision for programming, its cost, and said he wants to see the recreation staff held to the same standards in the scope of work laid out within the RFP.

“I want to see that even before we get the RFP back,” Grant said. “What’s our plan if we take it over? What does it cost? Is it going to be $400,000 or are we talking $800,000? That way we can know the numbers by the time we get the RFP — we know what we are preparing, too.”

Siding with Oropesa’s opposition, Foster said his main concern centered on how he believed the city could have a better understanding before moving forward with an RFP process.

“I think we should be out researching other facilities, and how they are doing it,” Foster said. “And come back with that and understand that before we start asking companies to put (in) money — because any company that wants to put an RFP — they’re spending money to submit their RFP.”

Moving forward 

Gilbert reiterated the city’s vision and purpose of the RFP. She said three to four vendors are prepared to submit proposals and asked for about six months to prepare before the opening of the facility, if they are chosen.

Oropesa and Foster asked to know the cost of operations and Gilbert gave a ballpark answer of $200,000 to $300,000, which was Cahoon Pool’s budget in the past. Gilbert said there was not an amount off-hand.

Best voiced her concerns and opinion on how the city would benefit from outside management. Best also asked if the aquatic center would hire locally, which Gilbert confirmed and said the city would encourage if any partnership was made with an outside management firm.

“We want them to hire and train our people,” Best said. “We don’t want them to bring in all of their people from outside. This is such a new adventure to us — we want them to train our people and bring them up to a level.”

Attending telephonically, Denny said she was at loss for words from councilors’ opposing responses and said the whole point of the RFP is to get information.

“We are already in February,” Denny said. “Before we know it, that building is going to be built and we are not going to have a clue. And that has been part of the issue with everything in the past and things catch up and nothing gets done. So there comes a point where we kind of have to get off the pot, or do something — and this is one of those instances.

“I think that doing the RFP, getting some information, and moving forward so we have some information to go with — we do not have to use the RFP if we choose not to do it. That’s what makes this whole thing beautiful.”

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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