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Assembly, committee reject buying sauna


The Haines Borough Finance Committee brought plans for a public sauna at the pool to a halt at a recent meeting, recommending the assembly not fund the $6,500 project put forth by borough staff.

The committee considered a budget amendment which would have used $6,500 from funds budgeted for trail development, but ultimately decided to remove the sauna item from the amendment.

“I don’t see why we need a sauna there,” said committee chair Jerry Lapp. “I’m opposed to it; I’m sorry. If somebody wants a sauna, they can put in a sauna, not the borough.”

The assembly accepted the committee’s recommendation Tuesday and unanimously voted to remove the sauna from the budget amendment.

The idea to install a sauna at the pool originated from executive assistant to the manager Darsie Culbeck, who said the amenity would attract more pool users, generating additional revenue.

A petition at the pool garnered more than 30 signatures in support of the installation of a sauna at the facility.

In a proposal extolling the sauna’s benefits, Culbeck wrote the sauna would allow people to warm up before entering the pool and after exiting it. “This allows the water temperature to remain at 80 (degrees) instead of the 81-83 requested by some users. Each degree costs $10,000 per year,” he wrote.

“The sauna is a small investment in marketing that could bring more users. The sauna is not going to save the pool, but it can be part of a solution. If we do nothing, Haines will very likely lose its pool in the near future,” he added.

Culbeck estimated the cost of running the sauna at $2.94 per day, based on three hours of use per day. Based on five days of use per week and 52 weeks per year, that comes out to about $764 annually.

Lapp balked at the figure and called it an underestimate, claiming the sauna would be used for more than three hours per day.

Assembly member Debra Schnabel said while she believes the idea has merit, the project shouldn’t be funded with public money. “It’s one of those things that strikes me as something that would come from a Friends of the Pool (group) or it would come from fundraising. What really crossed my mind was going out and finding somebody who will buy the sauna and donate it to the pool and put it in there,” Schnabel said.

Schnabel also pointed out that maybe the idea of installing a sauna could be looked at once other existing problems at the facility are fixed, such as peeling paint and missing tiles in the shower.

Assembly member Diana Lapham also alluded to the fact that she would be wary of public response to installation of a sauna when the budgeting process is just around the corner. “The potential is there to possibly cut programs and/or whatever in order to achieve a balanced budget, (so) how can the borough afford to put a sauna in the pool?”

The idea and effort behind the sauna strategy are admirable, said Mayor Stephanie Scott, as the problem facing the pool isn’t unique to that facility. Promoting a facility or service to increase usership and decrease cost is a strategy that can also be used for making utilities or admission to facilities cheaper, Scott said.

“I appreciate the effort,” Scott said of Culbeck’s sauna proposal. “It might not be the right idea; it might not be acceptable to us culturally at this time, but we have to look at that. We have to look at increasing the number of people that use the resources that we put into place.”

The Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee voted 5-0 on Jan. 16 to support the sauna, and according to Culbeck’s memo, pool manager RaeAnn Galasso, public facilities director Carlos Jimenez and Haines Dolphins swim coach Robert Butker also supported the project.