A bond referendum funding the Healthy Life Center in Ames was rejected in a narrow 51.5-48.5 percent margin by voters Tuesday.
According to unofficial results from the Story County auditor’s office, there were 4,167 votes for no and 3,924 for yes. The auditor’s office said the number of absentee ballots outstanding would not be enough to overturn the margin of victory for no side. However, the vote had a 60 percent approval threshold for its implementation.
Ames City Council supported the center, offering unanimous support for it in a resolution passed during its Aug. 27 meeting. The referendum sought public support for a roughly $29 million bond. The center had already received $20 million in funding from private donors and the project’s collaborators.
A political action committee (PAC) registered as “Citizens of Ames for Responsible Economics” encouraged voters to cast a no-vote in the referendum. The PAC’s website featured bold black lettering noting the estimated deficit the facility would operate with and its resultant tax increase. The PAC was created by the Ames Fitness Center, with attorney Eric Fischer serving as its chair and treasurer.
The PAC purchased advertisements on CyRide buses to support a no-vote, and mailed informational cards to residences in Ames.
As of Aug. 27, the PAC had received $18,234 in funding contributed in checks from the Ames Fitness Center, according to filings with the Iowa Ethics & Campaign Disclosure Board.
The Healthy Life Center would have resulted in a $44 increase per $100,000 of assessed residential property tax to fund its construction and operational costs. It would operate at an estimated $404,000 annual deficit. The facility — set to be built on Iowa State-owned property on Scholl Road north of Ontario Street — was to be the culmination of a partnership between Mary Greeley Medical Center, Iowa State, Des Moines Area Community College, Story County and Heartland Senior Services.
Nancy Carroll, executive director of Heartland Senior Services, said the group’s existing services would be relocated over to the Healthy Life Center and there would be a separate entrance for them at the facility.
Carroll said she looked forward to a successful outcome to the vote several hours before the results were known, although she said it would be difficult for the center to move forward if the center had been rejected by voters.
Plans for the facility had been in the works for more than three years.
The city advertised the facility on its website as providing “a one-of-a-kind center that makes the life-long goal of healthy living accessible and enjoyable to people of all ages and socio-economic status.”
With the pending demolition of the municipal pool at Ames High School in 2022, the city claimed its replacement would not “meet the needs of people who prefer a warm-water recreation experience.”
The Healthy Life Center was set to feature an indoor aquatic center — the most expensive part of the facility — at a cost of $19 million and creating an estimated 90 percent of the estimated annual deficit in maintenance costs.
Tim Gartin, ward two representative, praised the council’s staff for all the work they did.
“They communicated zealously on the Healthy Life Center and communicated the thoughtful way to engage our community,” Gartin said. “I cannot imagine them doing a better job and so I don’t want this moment to pass without communicating loudly and clearly our deep appreciation for such an important project.”
Turnout in the referendum itself was low, at 17.24 percent — with many Iowa State students not only unaware of the specifics of the planned facility, but also unaware a vote was taking place Tuesday.
Charlie Bruner, who voted in the Collegiate United Methodist Church, said he voted yes because he thinks “we need another [recreation] center.”
Katie Lent, freshman in event management, said she is registered to vote in Ames and that she [would] not be voting in the referendum because she did not know enough about the ballot measure.
Many of those who said they planned to vote against the bond issue in the referendum said they did so because of the tax increase it would result in.
Roman Lynch said to the Daily via Facebook messenger they would be voting against approval for the bond issue.
“They will be building a non-tax entity and will necessarily be taking customers from tax based ones,” Lynch said.
Three informational meetings were hosted at the Ames Public Library in the month before the vote.
Community members expressed concerns about accessibility for all socio-economic status, environmental compatibility and overall costs.
“Sooner or later this community has to face up to the fact that we have a climate crisis and we have to go to zero emissions within 10 years — starting now,” Erve Klaas said at the Aug. 29 meeting. “I don’t see anything said about whether or not you are using renewable for this facility or whether or not if energy efficient materials are being used in construction. Those have to be considered now, not next year, not in 10 years.”
Reporting contributed by Jacob Smith.