Residents of Ames will vote in the Healthy Life Center $29 million bond referendum Tuesday, likely deciding whether or not the project will ever come to Ames.
A "yes" vote would fully fund the $49 million project — $20 million already being provided by the project’s six collaborators and private donations. It would also raise property taxes by $44 per year per $100,000 in assessed value for residential properties and by $70 per year per $100,000 in assessed value for commercial and industrial properties.
A "no" vote would likely end the project, as Heartland Senior Services President Nancy Carroll told the Ames Tribune.
The center promises to offer a wide variety of services, including a warm-water indoor swimming pool to replace the municipal pool that will be demolished in 2022. It would house Mary Greeley and Heartland Senior Services, potentially offering new internship and work-experience opportunities for Iowa State students seeking positions in the health care field.
Although some services are certainly unique to the center, others are already covered by existing Ames facilities, such as the Furman Aquatic Center, the meeting rooms at Ames Public Library and the many cafes and gyms around Ames.
The City of Ames lists “drop-in child watch” as a benefit of the center, but that’s only available if whoever brought the child is still onsite. While some have said this could have a positive impact on the lack of childcare in Ames, a drop-in service will only benefit those who already have the money and free time to spend at the center, which is unlikely to include those who need affordable childcare the most.
The core purpose of the Healthy Life Center, per the City of Ames, is to “provide 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.”
However, residents of Ames have repeatedly expressed concerns at informational meetings regarding the center’s fee structure. Rather than addressing these concerns in a timely way, the city has assured residents it will be providing scholarships for the center, but the actual amount of those scholarships won’t be decided until after the bond referendum passes. Other key details of these scholarships, such as the application process and number available, have also remained vague — forcing the electorate to vote without being fully informed on its access to the facility.
The long-term budget of the facility is also hazy. Currently, Mary Greeley Medical Center and Story County are set to help fund the facility for the next 15 years, but they could certainly decide not to renew them after the initial term, creating a funding gap. City Manager Steve Schainker noted this in the May 28 City Council meeting.
According to meeting minutes, Schainker said “the loss of these contributions would significantly impact the Ames taxpayer who would be responsible for covering their share of the deficit.”
While certain aspects of the Healthy Life Center absolutely are appealing, the Daily Editorial Board cannot fully endorse a project with an unclear future and a lack of commitment to affordability, particularly when many of the services are already offered throughout the city.