Summer heat has arrived, but the relief of a cool swimming pool will remain hard to find after officials announced Wednesday Spokane County’s two aquatic centers will not open this summer.
Officials cited difficult reopening requirements during the coronavirus pandemic as the reason county pools will remain shuttered.
Meanwhile, the city of Spokane continues to explore whether it will reopen any of its six public swimming pools this summer.
The Spokane Valley Parks Department received support for its plans to reopen its three pools from city lawmakers earlier this month, but those plans are contingent upon the county moving to the next phase of Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan.
Inslee’s reopening plans allow for outdoor aquatic facilities to reopen in Phase 3, but Spokane County remains in the second phase of the tiered reopening process as COVID-19 case numbers continue to mount.
The Washington State Department of Health issued guidelines in May that required 6 feet of social distancing and limited capacity at 50 people, including lifeguards and pool staff, for aquatic centers to reopen.
Pool operators could appeal to their local health district for exemptions that would allow more people inside the gates, but it’s unlikely revenue from those attending would recoup the expenses of the necessary cleaning on top of the usual costs of pool operation. County officials were also concerned about enforcing social distancing and cleaning requirements.
“While this is certainly not an ideal situation as we enter the summer months, we have made this difficult decision based on the fact that our top priority is the safety of our employees and guests,” Spokane County Parks Director Doug Chase said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation and work diligently to make sure our aquatic facilities are safe, fun, and well-maintained places for our community to recreate for many years to come.”
The city of Spokane began offering free entry to its pools in 2018. Park officials provided the Spokane City Council and Park Board with plans to operate on an 8-, 6- or 4-week swimming season that would only open up to three of the city’s six aquatics centers, but a final decision on whether to open the gates in Spokane hasn’t been made.
According to Spokane park officials, such plans would cost anywhere from $324,000 to $448,000, based on the length of the season. Little of that money, if any at all, would be recouped through revenue from existing aquatic programs during the shortened season, according to city projections.
“Our request, as you review this information, is to ask the City to consider funding between 1 and 3 aquatic centers for a condensed 4 to 8 week season,” Spokane Parks Director Garrett Jones wrote in a letter to city officials informing them of the operational costs of a shortened swimming season. “If the Parks fund has revenues over expenditures at the end of the year, we may be able to repay at least a portion of the funds. We are also exploring the option of local businesses/organizations funding a pool.”
Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Stone said he’d presented a shortened season plan to his City Council earlier this month and received support. But opening the city’s three pools will require moving to the next phase of reopening, a date that could be difficult to predict as Spokane has seen a spike in cases. Because Spokane Valley contracts with the YMCA to provide lifeguards at their pools, Stone said the city would be able to pivot quickly and open for a short season should the county move to the next phase of reopening.
“We would require online registration,” Stone said, noting that typical pool capacity is about 200 people, but crowds would likely be limited to about 40 swimmers at a time to comply with health mandates.
Spokane County will continue renovations at its two aquatic centers during the 2020 summer, Chase said in his statement. The county had already planned not to open its Northside Aquatics Center this summer to allow for the completion of renovations including a new water slide, heated splash pads and shading for the deck.
The city of Spokane’s splash pads in area parks also remain closed due to health concerns. Fianna Dickson, spokeswoman for Spokane Parks, said staff members were investigating ways that those attractions might be able to open before pools within city limits.
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