Staying afloat: Officials say community pools rarely turn profit but boost quality of life
Jun 04, 2012 (Menafn - The Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Scores of Lansing children first learned to tread water and play swim tag in the city's Lan-Oak Pool.
But when temporary fixes to the infrastructure no longer worked -- and the district had to begin subsidizing the pool to the tune of 73,000 a year -- officials closed the then-44-year-old pool for good in 2006, Lan-Oak Park District Director John Wilson said.
Residents voted in a referendum against sinking more money into the pool.
Municipally run swimming pools in most other region cities and towns are staying open. Officials said pool budgets often break even -- though rarely turn a profit.
Most municipal officials in Northwest Indiana said having a pool is worth the trouble and expense during the scant three months of summer because of the quality the pools add to residents' lives.
"City pools are great fun for families and are economically valuable for most citizens, especially children," said Caren Jones, superintendent of the Gary parks department.
The city will operate pools in Roosevelt and Tolleston parks this summer -- and a splash pad for younger children in Buffington Park. It has scaled back from former boom times when at least six neighborhood pools opened every summer.
Like many municipal pools locally, those in Gary were built before 1975, officials said.
The pools that open this year in Gary are expected to cost about 30,000 to operate and are not expected to generate a profit, Jones said. Only one, the Roosevelt Park pool, will charge an admission fee this year.
"One of the difficulties in operating pools are the expense of maintaining them during economic hardships," Jones said.
Hammond continues to operate four municipal pools -- Hessville, Edison, King and Pulaski, the city's Parks Administrator Patrick Moore said.
The pools are packed all summer long, Moore said. Despite daily admission fees of up to 5 per person and season pass fees of up to 50 per family, the pools do not make a profit, Moore said.
"It's more of a courtesy," Moore said. "It's a service we provide our community. There would be an outcry if we closed them."
In neighboring Munster, officials hit on a winning strategy a decade ago when the town replaced an aging 1950s-era steel pool with a 3.2 million aquatic center.
"We did a lot of planning and had community focus groups to discuss what we wanted to build," Town Manager Tom DeGiulio said.
The result was the Community Pool, with its water slides in deeper water, play features for younger children in shallow water, and a sand volleyball court and separate sand play area. The facility also has a food court, among other attractions.
Patrons pay between 4 and 10 for daily admission and between 100 and 350 for season passes, depending on age, family size and residency.
After costs of 277,058 in 2011 for pool chemicals, maintenance, staffing and other expenses, the aquatic center generated a profit of 44,739, DeGiulio said.
A near-40-year-old pool will open as usual this year at 53rd Avenue and Tyler Street in Ross Township, Township Trustee Joseph Shudick said. But that could change.
Township officials bought the pool years ago from a neighborhood homeowners association, and it remains the only municipal pool in the Merrillville area, Shudick said.
Frills include separate swim areas for kids and adults and a slide that replaced a one-time diving board.
"We don't make any revenue off of it," Shudick said. "We do it for quality of life reasons and to offer swimming for neighborhood children."
A municipal pool in neighboring Porter County has been included in a master plan for several years but was never built, Valparaiso Parks Director John Seibert said.
Officials in 2002 proposed floating a 6.5 million bond issue to build an aquatic center, but concern by some over the tax effect led to defeat.
The focus now is on forming a partnership between the city and another entity, possibly the YMCA, Valparaiso University or a private champion, to share the costs of a pool, Seibert said.
A city pool still ranks high on residents' wish lists, settling among the top five in polls, Seibert said. The catch is finding an acceptable formula combining what people want with what they're willing to pay.
Meanwhile, the city is proud of a new splash pad it opened last year in the new Central Park Plaza near the downtown.
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