"The funding isn't there. That's the reality of it," said Mike Conway, city spokesperson. It's the second year in a row that all three of Merced's city pools will remain closed to the public, officials say. That's frustrating some Merced residents, as summer is fast approaching and there's concern about what kids will do once school lets out.
And it's not just happening in Merced, California, it's a national issue, affecting swimmers from Chicago to Fort Worth. Public pools are no longer a guaranteed amenity provided by local governments.
Budget cuts, and the costs of retrofitting pool drains and now, this year, adding pool lifts for handicapped swimmers, has put a pool closed sign on many of our local swim parks. In suburban Philadephia, many of the city pools are nearing the end of their useful lives, and faced with major renovations, city leaders are locking the gate and turning away.
In St. Louis, it's a $900,000 problem. North County Recreation Complex is shutting down, for good this time. The 500,000 gallon pool has been part of the recreational offerings for over 35 years, but faced with $1M in repairs, county officials made the call to close.
Many cities are opting to close down larger, expensive to operate pools, and to appease residents, producing plans for smaller pools, with water park features, or spray parks, which are safer and easier to maintain.
Is your pool threatening to shut down? You may not even know it, but plans may be afoot to shutter the doors to your favorite watering hole. What can you do about it? You can't fight city hall - or can you? Here's some ideas that may help you Save our Swimming!
- Start a local petition. Elected officials usually listen to their constituents. Grass roots organizers can be very effective in telling your officials what is important to those who elected them.
- Start a fund-raiser. Pools are expensive to operate and maintain. Very expensive. You may be surprised to learn that your city public pools have budgets in the millions of dollars. Don't let that scare you however. Look for deep pockets in your community. Corporate sponsorships, private donations, and rallies to raise the money. Add funds to the coffers to offset expenses, with small efforts and large.
- Increase Revenue. The fees charged (if any) have been very affordable over the years. Usually just a few dollars. Consider raising the fee to use the pool to something that can make a difference. Also consider accepting debit or credit cards.
- Publicize the management. Instead of hiring private contractors, could the city take over management of the pool, or work to create a cooperative management - shared by residents or users of the pool? This will drastically reduce the cost of opening and maintaining the pool.
- Reduce expenses. Reducing pool hours is a no-brainer, and probably the first to consider. But how about using LED or CFL light bulbs around the area, instead of Sodium Halide. Chemical expense can be a huge part of the budget. On smaller pools, ozone or mineral purifers can greatly reduce chlorine expense. Using proper levels of Cyanuric acid will also extend chlorine use. Staffing is probably the largest expense of any pool - if volunteers can be organized, you wouldn't need so much cash - for paid staffers.
City leaders really don't want to take away your pool, but they will, unless you FIGHT!