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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Swimmers flock to city pools to beat the heat with free-pass program

At about 12:50 p.m. Monday, a long line of families, children and youth group leaders waited for the doors to open at the Shadle Aquatic Center in Spokane. About 15 minutes later the children filed onto the quickly warming pool deck, and 10 minutes after that the army of young patrons took over the facility, splashing and laughing in delight.

It’s a common sight this summer at city pools. With the introduction of the SplashPass program, which offers free memberships to all six city pools, facilities are consistently hitting capacity during busy afternoon sessions, said recreation supervisor Josh Oaks.

An especially hot afternoon will often mean lines forming at the door as those hoping to escape the summer heat wait to fill the space of any departing patron.

So far roughly 47,600 people have signed up for SplashPass since the beginning of this year. And about 47,000 of those pass holders have come through one of the aquatic centers so far.

Before the SplashPass program began this year, the Comstock and Shadle aquatic centers were the only pools to fill up regularly, he said. But now they all do.

“We’ve always had capacity limits,” Oaks said. “We are reaching those capacity numbers quite often.”

For most of the city pools, that limit is around 350 swimmers. But if that’s too challenging, the number may drop.

“We actually had to lower that a little bit just because the lifeguards were uncomfortable with the number of people in the pool,” said Jared Keffeler, manager at the Hillyard Aquatic Center. “The lifeguards are constantly watching full, at-capacity zones.”

Hillyard now accepts 300 patrons at a time. At the Shadle Aquatic Center, the limit is 400.

“Last year we would reach capacity mostly on hot days, but this year pretty much any day where it’s been over 85 degrees we’ve hit capacity,” said Shadle manager Daniel Doyle.

For swimmers looking to beat the biggest rush, their best bet might be to come earlier or later in the day. Two pools, Comstock and Witter, have morning lap swim. That’s still popular, and requires patrons to actually swim laps if they want to keep their lane, Oaks said. But it’s not as busy as the afternoon.

There are also evening sessions from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday for all pools except Witter.

Despite the heavier traffic, operations are mostly the same as usual at the city pools. Anything that has happened this year would have happened last year, Keffeler said.

One of the biggest requests pool employees have every year is that parents don’t leave their children unattended, he said. That’s always relevant, but worth repeating with the increased traffic.

“Lifeguards are not baby sitters,” he said. “We’re here for safety, we’re not here to watch your kid.”

One positive change Keffeler noticed was better behavior from patrons.

“We have more accountability for people in the facility,” he said. “People give us their name when they come in, so (they) are a lot more well-behaved because it’s a membership-based system.”

And because the SplashPass is free, more individuals and families can come to the pool regardless of tight summer budgets.

“I know (that) was a problem for some patrons,” Doyle said.

Makeleta Kefu, a Spokane resident, said she’s been bringing her four children and their cousins to the pool every week.

“It saves us a lot of money,” she said. “For a family that can’t afford to go to summer programs, we’re able to bring them here.”

Another Spokane resident, Jessica Keifer, said the free swim pass helped her family as well. She came with her 9- and 10-year-old son and daughter, along with other family members.

“We’ve been here pretty much every day since the summer started because it’s free and it’s been hot. The kids love it,” she said. “(The free admission) is absolutely fabulous. Without that we would not be at the pool as much.”

Aside from swimming, free entry also means anyone can come to cool off and shower when it’s hot.

“We have a few homeless people that come in, and they don’t actually cause any problems as far as I’ve noticed,” Doyle said. “Now they have a place to shower, a place to use the bathroom if they want it, somewhere to cool off.”

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