August 24, 2011 in City

Shawn Vestal: Pools are closing; have we gone off the deep end?

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Jamie Erickson, 13, of Deer Park, shows his form off the diving board while spending Tuesday afternoon at the Shadle Aquatic Center Pool in Spokane. It was his first time this summer to the pool. City pools close for the season on Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

Summer has finally arrived in Spokane, just in time for the city to close the pools.

Well – close the pools to people, that is.

The city’s beautiful new aquatic centers – which we all agreed to fund to the tune of $43 million just four years ago – will close for the year Saturday. Right in the midst of our first stretch of 90-degree weather all year. Nine days before Labor Day. Ten days before school starts in District 81.

The pools won’t even remain open through Sunday (forecast: 91 degrees). Or through Monday (forecast: 88). Or through Tuesday’s still-quite-swimmable 80. Or – did I mention this – through Labor Day?

If it’s any consolation, you can take your dog to the pool Sunday or Monday for one of the city’s Doggie Dips.

Seriously, Spokane? We’ve got these great new pools – and I sincerely think they’re great, and we use them in our family for kid-exhaustion purposes on a regular basis – and we’re going to shut them down right in the middle of our eight-day summer? This is the kind of thing that drives people into the tea party.

There must be some reasons for this, right? Perhaps the Pony Express has not arrived at City Hall with the latest weather report? It’s not like Leroy Eadie and the gang at the City Parks and Recreation Department sit around rubbing their hands and cackling over opportunities to deny us a cool dip on a hot day, is it?

Well, no. Eadie and Craig Butz, the department’s entertainment/recreation manager, took some of the bluster out of my sails by pointing out several annoyingly reasonable reasons for the pool closures.

Yeah, it’d be nice to make last-minute decisions about the pool schedule – to simply close when it’s cold and open when it’s warm – but several things make that hard to do, they said.

First among them is the fact that the lifeguards – most of whom are high school and college students – begin drifting away in mid-August, as the school year approaches. Classes have already begun at Washington State University, for example.

“We just have a hard time keeping enough qualified staff” at this time of year, Butz said. And the new pools – because there are more features and more complicated designs – require more lifeguards than the old-fashioned rectangles.

On top of that, pool attendance usually drops off in the final week. Plus, the department has a 10-week schedule that is based on a strict budget, and even though admission fees have been raised this year, they still don’t come close to covering expenses. Out of the nearly $1 million pools budget, the parks department takes in about $311,000 in revenue, Eadie said. Adding extra days costs money, and money, in case you haven’t noticed, is scarce these days.

The city of Spokane isn’t the only one closing down the pools. Spokane County has already closed the Northside Family Aquatic Center, and its Southside pool closes Sunday. Spokane Valley has already closed its Park Road pool, will close the Valley Mission pool Sunday, and will leave just one pool – Terrace View – open through Labor Day.

Angela Simmons, recreation manager for Spokane County, said the county has typically closed pools a week before the start of school, because attendance drops sharply. Though it’s hot this year, it’s often cooling off at the end of August, with average temperatures in the low 80s and high 70s, and it would cost some $15,000 to keep a pool open for one more week. The city’s cost would be similar.

“We may have had two days all summer when we actually had enough attendance to make money,” Simmons said.

So, all right – maybe it’s not that easy. All these facts make it harder for me to stamp my foot and complain about the doggone city. But still, it’s hard to have the kind of summer we’ve had – all that rain, that Octobery June – and accept that it’s coming to an end without a single day of swimming where the temperatures climbed above 92. As of Tuesday, we’ve had five days when the temperature reached 90 degrees or higher. Some City Council meetings last longer and get hotter than our summer.

It feels like a few sunburny days at the pool are owed to us – by whoever is tasked with ensuring that life is perfectly fair – in exchange for our roof-collapsing winters.

Four years ago, we approved a $43 million bond issue to make Spokane a better place to swim. The city fixed the old, leaking pools at Witter, Cannon, Comstock, Liberty and Hillyard, and built a new one in Shadle Park. It also put in 15 new splash pads at city parks – which will be open until Sept. 5 – and did a variety of other work. It was a big investment in the city’s quality of life, and I’m glad we did it.

I’d be gladder still if I could go swimming on Sunday.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.


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