Cookie Telles loves water aerobics, and she loves the new Rankin Aquatic Center. What she’s not fond of is the fact that the pool is closed from October through April, and she wants to see that changed.
“I think it should be open for lap swimming and exercise an additional four months,” Telles recently said at a joint meeting of the City Council and Park, Recreation, Marina and Cultural Commission. “The subject seems to have been dropped since last October. I haven’t seen anyone or heard anyone come up with ideas for extra staff and costs.”
And there’s the rub. The pool is closed after September because the majority of users – school age kids – go back to school. And the lifeguards, most of whom are high school and college age, also go back to school. That leaves very few people around to act as cashiers, lifeguards and other support staff, said Patty Lorick of the Recreation Department.
And, of course, there’s money. Lorick pointed out that the city is facing an $800,000 deficit next year, and is tightening its belt wherever it can.
But Telles believes that, with a little effort and imagination, the new pool could be open in September, October, April and May, primarily for adult lap swimming and exercise.
Telles met with Lorick and other city staff last week to go over the money generated by the pool last year, but the results of that were inconclusive because the season was shorter than typical.
“I heard several times that the pool was not planned to be open any more than what they did at the old pool,” Telles said. “That just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s a brand-new $6 million pool. How can they not want to use it more?”
She said her concern was that the city would put its energy and efforts into other issues and put the pool near the bottom of its priority list. Meanwhile, the new season is approaching, and she would like to see the pool hours at least extended.
“I know there isn’t much staff, but that doesn’t mean the pool just has to sit there,” she said.
A group of citizens has been appointed to study the problem and suggest ideas to the PRMCC. Telles said she believes the group is up to 16 people.
Lorick said she supports the idea of using the pool as much as possible, but said the lack of staff and money was a problem that will be difficult to get around.
“The income we get from the pool does not cover the cost of operation,” Lorick said. “We’re trying to keep it affordable for everybody to participate. More staff means more costs. Would we like to do more? Absolutely. We just don’t have the means. I have to focus on the season we have. I’m thrilled people are excited about this facility.”
What do you think? Should the pool season be extended if it means more money out of the city's General Fund?