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Monday, June 27th, 2011

Pools costly town service

By Jay Clouse

Community swimming pools rarely generate enough revenue to cover expenditures. H. . .

Community swimming pools provide residents a place to cool off and relax and job opportunities for teens, but they also are a drain on municipal budgets.
"When you're talking about public pools, it's just a matter of how much money you lose," New Bremen Village Administrator Wayne York said.
In fact, no area pools in 2010 generated enough revenue to cover operating expenses. The facilities typically operate $25,000 to $70,000 in the hole, city and village officials said.
"The public wants it; they see it as an amenity," St. Marys Safety Service Director Tom Hitchcock said. "That's the reason cities do it. If pools made tons of money, the private sector would do it."
St. Marys pool had a profit years ago when it drew traffic from neighboring communities. But that stopped when Wapakoneta opened its own public pool in recent years, Hitchcock said.
The carryover from more profitable years allows the St. Marys Aquatic Center to operate in the black. Last year's operating deficit of $8,165, was covered by its $70,000 fund balance.
Other communities have not been so fortunate.
Rockford closed its public swimming pool three years ago amidst the declining economy.
"We couldn't afford to keep it going," Rockford Village Administrator Jeff Long said. "There was not a whole lot of use, and it was an old pool."
Despite operating $25,000 to $30,000 in the hole, village officials heard some negative response to the closure.
The village has since installed a self-sustaining splash pad and hasn't ruled out building a new public swimming pool, Long said.
"It looks like we're thinking the minimum of $1 million (to construct a new pool)," Long said. "I think we're gonna see. We haven't gave up on it."
No community was as proactive about its desire to maintain its swimming spot than Celina last year when lack of funds nearly forced the closure of Bryson Memorial Pool.
City council members announced in April 2010 that the pool would be closed due to the city's financial situation and the pool's nearly $50,000 operating deficit. Officers with the Bryson Trust Fund then issued $50,000 to get the pool through another season.
According to Bryson pool manager Mary Cisco, children were writing letters in school, a Facebook page titled "Save Bryson Pool" was created and the community was coming up with fundraisers.
"People were gonna do whatever it took to keep it open," Cisco said.
The pool ended 2010 with a $40,161 deficit. No consideration was given to keeping the pool closed this year.
Community leaders say public pools offer value beyond money.
"To have a community pool is a great asset," St. Henry village administrator Ron Gelhaus said.
He added that many residents feel fortunate to live in a community with an affordable pool, and it may be attractive to those looking to settle in the area. The community already has about $280,000 set aside in a park improvement fund to someday construct a new pool.
Gelhaus said residents have expressed interest in bringing the issue to the forefront as the economy improves.
Celina city councilman Bill Sell echoed Gelhaus' thoughts.
"Young families moving to an area look at schools, they look at parks, and they look at swimming pools," Sell said. "If you have a beautiful multimillion dollar pool that's (closed), that's discouraging."
Each pool in the area employs high school or college-age students as concession workers and lifeguards. Cisco called it a "first-step" for youth to enter the job world.
Celina resident Mary Ann Knapke said her grandchildren are always at the pool.
"Kids need a place to learn to swim and be outside and be active," she said.
Knapke also pointed out that youngsters learn about discipline at the pool.
"When kids are here, they have to be respectful; they have to follow the rules," Cisco said about Celina's pool. "I tell the workers to preach that this is a family facility."
Celina swim coach Matt Slavik estimated that without the pool, 95 percent of kids wouldn't be as active in the summer.
"A lot of where high school and club (swim) teams come from are the kids just wandering in here and enjoying the sport," Slavik said. "Every year Celina has had a diver and swimmers at state."
Recent Celina graduate and two-time state swim qualifier Kyle Menchhofer said he started swimming as a kid at the city pool.
"I always looked forward to riding my bike to the pool every day to see my friends," Menchhofer said. "It's a big benefit to our community."
Most of the pools in the area are at least 20 years old, and operating and maintaining them will continue to cost more. However, most officials agree that public swimming pools provide enough of a public service to warrant the cost.
"It's a place kids can come that they're safe for the day," Cisco said. "I can't imagine a world without the pool."

2010 pool figures:
Bryson Memorial Pool, Celina
Revenue: $67,826.71
Expenses: $107,988.14

Memorial Park Swimming Pool, Coldwater
Revenue: $47,823
Expenses: $76,400

Ambassador Pool,
Fort Recovery
Revenue: approx. $54,000
Expenses: approx. $78,000

St. Henry Swimming Pool,
St. Henry
Revenue: $23,186
Expenses: $55,609

St. Marys Aquatic Center,
St. Marys
Revenue: $100,230.50
Expenses: $108,395.46

Minster Swimming Pool, Minster
Revenue: approx. $45,000
Expenses: approx. $110,000

Information provided by city and village officials.
- Jay Clouse
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