After councilors and citizens alike expressed concern last week about preliminary plans for Silver City’s future recreation center, town leaders hosted a public meeting regarding the new center Tuesday evening at the Grant County Veterans Memorial Business and Conference Center.
Lt. Gov. Howie Morales attended the meeting virtually from Washington, D.C., to give his insight into the project, after which the session was opened to the primary order of business: public input.
“I want to thank Priscilla Lucero and Alex Brown, who answered the call that day in 2020 when we saw there was funding available,” Morales said. “We were able to put into legislation the dollars that were necessary, going specifically for a rec center. I think this is something that I’m grateful for, because the $4 million match that the city council and the city have put forward has made this doable.”
He said he went back to the Legislature this year for another allocation, which puts the project’s budget at $12 million.
All of Silver City’s Town Council members were in attendance at the meeting, including District 1 Councilor Lucian Farmer, District 2 Councilor Nicholas Prince, District 3 Councilor Jose Ray and District 4 Councilor Guadalupe Cano, along with Town Manager Alex Brown. Councilors made it clear that they were only there to listen, and no official actions were to be taken during the session.
The primary goal of community members who spoke at the meeting seemed to be the need and desire for a swimming pool in the future recreation center. Each had a five-minute slot to share their expectations for the project. Kinān Lopez, who said he has been living in Silver City most of his life, kicked off the public input.
“Ever since I was little, I have always gone to the public pool, and learned how to swim there,” Lopez said. “Our swim team, a few years ago, was open to any youth in the community who wanted to learn how to swim. Swimming is such an important asset to our community — it allows kids to have fun, and also have the life skill of swimming. The right funds being put toward the pool will help the youth of our community learn how to swim.”
Megan Ruehmann, head coach of the Silver Swordfish swim team, said she was at the meeting to represent kids on her team who cherish their time swimming during the short summer season when the current town pool is open. She said what Silver City is missing is year-round swimming for kids.
“Just this morning I was swimming laps at Western, and it really struck me that as an adult I get to swim almost any day of the year, but kids don’t have that opportunity at all,” Ruehmann said. “Many people in our town don’t know we have a swim team, so I wanted to shed some light on what this means for our youth. We have a small team, and it includes kids ranging in age from 7 to 18, and is made up of around 25 to 30 kids.”
Randi White, a member of the Silver Swordfish swim team, also advocated for the pool at Tuesday night’s meeting.
“A misconception that I have heard from some of you legislators/officials is that we want an Olympic-size pool, and that’s actually inaccurate,” she said. “An Olympic-size pool actually inhibits our sport — that’s great for Olympics, but we are a short-course team here in New Mexico. We want a pool that is going to be 25 yards.
“Our question that we really want answered is: Why did you guys survey us, and ask us what we wanted, if you guys weren’t going to put that in the ICIP anyway?” White continued. “What was the issue with that?”
Another misconception that White addressed was that Silver City already has three pools, which she said is not true. She said the pool at Gila Regional Medical Center’s Billy Casper Wellness Center is a rehabilitation pool that you cannot jump into from the side, and because the pool is used by an elderly population, it is not open to kids. Western New Mexico University also does not allow kids under the age of 16 in their recreation center and its small lap pool, which she said is a huge problem.
While most who spoke Tuesday pushed for a pool and seemed unwilling to change their minds, Jacob Verdugo said he understood if a pool couldn’t be included in phase one of the project, and he encouraged his fellow community members to come together.
“I have five kids — we all would love a pool,” he said. “But in order to get it, we would have to give the money back, and then reapply for it. Once that happened, we wouldn’t get the money back, and then we wouldn’t get a rec center. It’s happening in the second phase — it’s going to happen. It’s not even a question. Howie is working endlessly to get the money for it.”
Verdugo said that kids in Silver City don’t really have many recreation opportunities, and a center without a pool is better than no recreation center at all. He said one aspect, however, was non-negotiable.
“All of these things are great, but what I’m here to talk about is handicapped accessibility,” he said. “I think that it’s the most important thing of all, because handicapped people in Grant County don’t have the opportunities that we have.”
Prince told the Daily Press that chunks of communication are being assigned to each town councilor, and those who attended the meeting can expect contact over the next few days to reflect on their input and how it is being integrated into planning for the future center. He said that all voices will be taken into consideration, and the council will try to meet the needs of the entire community. He referred to an input meeting last Monday, hosted by architects for the project, as a starting point.
“Last week’s meeting was a lot of people getting their first chance at input, and this week it has been getting refined,” Prince said. “We now feel like there is enough motivation and enough will for us to be able to increase the scope and responsiveness in this design phase, to better meet the needs of our community.”
The next Silver City Town Council meeting is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 12, at the Grant County Administration Building.
Jordan Archunde may be reached at [email protected] press.com.