Leadership, vision and courage -- that's what it took to elevate discussions about the replacement of Delta's aging swimming pool into the full-featured recreation center that opened 25 years ago, on March 27, 1993.
"Cleland Pool was quite old when we started talking about this establishment," Gerald Roberts commented at the 25th anniversary celebration of Bill Heddles Recreation Center. Now, as then, he served on the Delta City Council.
The pool's retractable roof was no longer operational, and the health department had issued an ultimatum to either close or comply with current health standards. As Roberts recalls, the city was sinking $80,000 to $100,000 annually into pool repairs. "It was bandaid upon bandaid," he said.
Roberts and fellow council members -- Karen Kooyenga, Ray Meyer, Bob Harding and Charlie Allinson -- directed staff to begin looking at options. A 15-member task force representing a cross-section of area citizens was formed. It didn't take them long to determine that it made no sense to make any additional repairs to the Cleland Pool.
Rich Englehart, director of Delta Parks and Recreation, was instrumental in pulling together the initial task force that moved the discussion toward a multipurpose recreation center in the fall of 1990.
Architect Rich Sales was hired to guide planning efforts. Roberts recalls he showed up at an early task force meeting with an easel and a blank sheet of paper. He drew a circle for the pool, a square for the gym ... soon he had a rough rendering of what task force members envisioned for the recreation center.
"That was the end of the meeting and I thought, 'That's what we get for $4,000?' " Roberts said.
But a short time later, Sales returned with a schematic that looked much like the present-day recreation center. The design was "massaged" over the next several months.
When construction estimates came in, and the project was a little over budget, Roberts said Sales took six inches off the perimeter of the entire facility to shave costs. "If you think about that, that's a lot of square feet," he said.
Estimated cost was $4 million, Roberts said. Nobody knew how to pay for it, so the city went back to the task force.
"They said a new tax would do it and we shuddered, because back then 'No new taxes of any kind!' was the battle cry."
By this point the task force was dealing with both design and funding, so the decision was made to break into working groups.
Citizens for the Bill Heddles Recreation Center entered the picture at just the right time to create a whole new level of excitement for the recreation center.
A one-cent city sales tax increase, from 2 to 3 percent, passed by a comfortable margin, thanks to the members of the group who visited service clubs, senior organizations and other gatherings to explain the concept and answer questions.
"I contend that if council had tried to sell the concept themselves, the answer would have been no," Roberts said. "The committee did virtually all the leg work."
Bill Carlquist, who chaired the task force, said the recreation center was originally sold as a gathering place for young people, "but I think we enlisted the right people from the senior community to sell it. Now, when you want something for the recreation center, seniors will carry it."
As part of the tax referendum, it was determined that three-fourths of the one percent increase go to paying off the bonds issued to fund construction. The remaining quarter percent would help cover operations and maintenance.
Construction of the facility began in October 1991 with a two-month delay during the winter of 1992. The 52,000-square-foot building housed a gymnasium, pool, tot pool, therapy pool, sauna, locker room, racquetball courts, weight room, aerobics and dance studio, activity room, snack bar, conference meeting rooms, staff lounge and offices.
Prior to the grand opening, Ruth Wild, manager of Cleland Pool, arranged a hay ride. Anyone interested in forming a procession to the new pool was invited to bring a bucket and meet at Cleland. Ruth dipped her bucket in the pool, everybody else followed, and the hay wagon made its way to the new pool. Ruth again took the lead, dumping her bucket of Cleland water into the new pool.
Task force member Gordon Wagner, a banker, observed that the timing was perfect for the tax question. "We had just come out of some real tough times, but it still took some vision to push it through."
He admits that he wasn't initially sold on the concept -- until he visited a new recreation center in Lafayette, his former place of residence. "I looked at that recreation center and thought, 'Gosh, what an addition to a community!' That's what sold me."
"I thank the people who were courageous enough to have a vision and to see it through to give us something like this," Carlquist noted at the anniversary celebration. "Thank you to all who take pride in it and maintain it.
"As much as it's used, it's in absolutely amazing shape," he added later.
Also present at the anniversary celebration was Sky Fairlamb and his wife Melanie. Through his connections with the Republican party, Fairlamb worked with Sam Zakhem to bring the Kuwaiti ambassador to the community in the early '90s. Shortly before, the ambassador had been in Philadelphia and had given the city a small token of appreciation for the U.S.'s help during the Gulf War. When Fairlamb shared the vision for the rec center with the ambassador, he stunned area residents with a $100,000 gift for the project.
Since the initial sales tax question, voters have twice renewed their support for the recreation center. In 2011 the three-fourths of one percent was to sunset at completion of the debt service. With 72 percent voter approval, sunset was pushed to 2020 and funds were dedicated to building expansion. A new fitness wing opened in October 2013, and in November 2013 the wellness pool/lazy river opened. The additions brought the total square footage to 62,900.
In 2014, the city asked voters to approve the 1 percent sales tax for perpetuity. One quarter of the 1 percent was dedicated to the recreation department for operations and maintenance; the other three-quarters was to be divided among the parks, recreation and golf departments. That question passed with 51 percent voter approval.
The recreation center continues to draw patrons from throughout Delta County, as well as Mesa and Montrose counties. While the focus is on fitness, the recreation center provides a popular gathering place for young and old alike, a place to play chess, relax in the sauna or shoot hoops with friends.
The 25th anniversary of Bill Heddles Recreation Center will continue with special events throughout the year. Stay tuned!
Who was Bill Heddles?
The Delta City Council, at the urging of local historian and storyteller Gordon Hodgin, named the city's new recreation center in honor of Willard F. "Bill" Heddles.
Heddles was born in Paonia in 1912. After living in Chicago, Pueblo and Denver, he returned to Delta in 1934. He worked at Dunbar Drug, then in the early '50s bought O'Dell Drug with Don Cooper and changed the name to Comet Drug.
Besides serving as mayor and councilman, Heddles put his mark on such tangibles as the mobile roof that made Cleland Pool a unique, indoor-outdoor pool, the present Delta municipal building and the former Heddles Park that was named in his honor.
According to a front page article in the DCI on Feb. 16, 1984, "He encouraged the Delta City Council to acquire property at the north approach to the city, then he created a park at the site, cadging funds and salvaging materials to install a sprinkler system and fencing." Ball fields were laid out, backstops were erected and Skyland Foods furnished apple peels to neutralize alkalinity in the fields.
Plans were made for picnic tables and trees, but before those plans could come to fruition, the city built Mountain View Park and the North Delta area was eventually abandoned.
"He was always out doing something for Delta," Hodgin told council members. At the end of his presentation on May 7, 1991, Delta City Council immediately and unanimously voted to name the proposed new facility the W.F. "Bill" Heddles Recreation Center.