Competition pool

A schematic design for the competition swimming pool at the proposed indoor recreation center.

PELLA — The City of Pella is seeking a partnership with the Pella Community School District to develop a new multi-million dollar indoor recreation center.

Mayor Don DeWaard and Pella City Administrator Mike Nardini presented a concept plan for a new indoor recreation center to the Pella School Board at their meeting Monday. The facility, estimated at a cost of $50.5 million, would be located northwest of Pella Sports Park.

The city is requesting $5 million from the school district to partially fund an eight-lane competition swimming pool and a bike trail extension to connect Caldwell Park to Pella Sports Park, estimated at $10.5 million. The trail would be located in front of Pella High School, Madison Elementary and the new Early Childhood Center along University Street.

Nardini says the city is seeking $17.5 million in private funds for the project and has already seen “significant fundraising efforts to date” from private sources. About $33 million in public funds is needed for the project, with $17 million coming from the city’s Local Option Sales and Service Tax. The city plans to request additional funds from both the county and the state.

DeWaard told the board he feels the community’s outdoor recreation needs have been met with the development of Pella Sports Park over a decade ago, but indoor recreation opportunities are “severely lacking,” especially in the winter months.

He says an indoor recreation center will also help alleviate some of the workforce recruitment and retention issues affecting Pella’s larger employers, including Vermeer Corporation and Pella Corporation. Both companies support and have made financial commitments for the project.

“Being able to attract and retain talent is top priority,” says Nicolle Picray, public relations and corporate communications manager for Pella Corporation. “We are competing with major national corporate brands for talent … Having something like an indoor rec facility like Don is talking about really will help us round out our value propositions for these potential recruits … It would be great, not only for additional recreation for existing residents, but for new recruits that come in as well.”

Billie Rhamy, talent brand manager for Vermeer, echoed the company’s support for an indoor recreation center to help attract and retain talent.

“That’s what’s really cool about Pella. When people come, they get excited about Pella, and this is one more thing to get excited about,” she says. “The other part of it is when they do come, making Pella sticky … We want to make it hard for people to leave … It’s not just for Vermeer to be sticky, but it’s for Pella as well. “

Additionally, DeWaard says an indoor recreation center will spur more economic development and increase the economic impact of the city’s already-robust tourism industry by attracting more people.

“We’re trying to build community and enhance quality of life,” he says. “This really is a quality of life opportunity with this type of facility.”

Tim Tripp, vice president of the Pella School Board, was impressed with the project, but says the board’s first responsibility is overseeing taxpayer dollars for public education.

“I believe that we have created a world-class education, and I think that makes our community sticky in many ways,” he says. “I’m failing to see the nexus between the public dollars that I’m tasked to be a steward of with what you’re proposing, especially when corporations come in and say ‘We want to make our community sticky with amenities.’ I’m saying they’re only in for $17 mil. We’re more flesh in the game [compared to] them.”

Gary Copppock, board member, was also on the fence about the partnership.

“I would need to understand more about the financial piece,” Coppock says. “With a business, they’ve got profits and they can do anything they want with the profits, but our money is for schools … I just don’t understand the finances well enough to get in on that yet.”

Superintendent Greg Ebeling says the indoor recreation center would be an amenity that would help recruit new teachers to the district, but the district first needs to figure out “what their priorities are for the dollars they have.” The district is currently in the process of multiple facilities upgrades, including a new Early Childhood Center, with a $40 million bond issue passed in November 2021.

“We kind of have this squeeze going on trying to get additional educational spaces as we see our enrollment upticking, which is a great thing … But that’s our challenge. How much more are we going to need for educational space, and where do we commit those dollars? That’s going to be the rub for us.”

A concept plan for the project, designed by Shive-Hattery in Des Moines, was first unveiled at a Pella City Council meeting Jan. 3. It includes 78,000 square feet of space with four full-size basketball courts, a recreation swimming pool, competition swimming pool, an indoor walking track, weightlifting and fitness equipment, a rock climbing wall and more.

The project will take about two years to complete, with an opening date tentatively slated for late spring/early summer of 2025.

A finalized concept plan will be presented to Pella City Council at their meeting Tuesday, March 7. 

No action was taken by the board for the city’s request.

In other news: 

— The board approved a 3.29% salary and benefit increase for staff as part of their annual teacher salary package for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The increase represents a $500 base increase and $1,200 in career increments, for a total increase of $470,000.

Emily Hawk is the associate editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. She can be reached at

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