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Spokane Parks announces plan to reopen aquatic centers

March 8, 2021 Updated Mon., March 8, 2021 at 9:42 p.m.

Chris Carter glides through water to the south end of the Witter Aquatic Center during lap swimming in June 2018. (DAN PELLE)
Chris Carter glides through water to the south end of the Witter Aquatic Center during lap swimming in June 2018. (DAN PELLE)

Their backstrokes might be rusty, but Spokane swimmers should soon be able to dive into city pools.

Spokane Parks and Recreation officials outlined a plan Monday to reopen the city’s aquatic centers for the first time since 2019.

With myriad safety measures in place, the parks department expects to open its pools later this year, albeit in a limited fashion, to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines.

“We view it as one of those essential services,” Spokane Parks and Recreation Director Garrett Jones said in an interview. “We’re going to do everything we can do to bring back aquatics in some shape or form.”

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Although the parks department is determined to get swimmers in pools, it remains uncertain just how “normal” the swim season will be.

Inslee has yet to outline the conditions necessary for a Phase 3, but its guidelines could allow for increased capacity inside pools. Spokane Parks also is hoping to win financial support from the Spokane City Council – or any other community benefactor – to fund expanded open swim hours.

Jones and parks officials made their pitch for increased funding to the City Council during a meeting of the Urban Experience Committee on Monday. The council didn’t take action but could discuss the proposal in the coming weeks.

The basics

The city expects to initially reopen the aquatic centers under a limited “foundational services” model. The condensed regular season will run from late June through late August at five aquatic centers. The city’s Olympic-sized pool, Witter Aquatic Center, will open earlier and stay open later in the season.

The initial emphasis will include hosting learn-to-swim programs and the Aqua Ducks Swim Team, a novice competitive swim team for children ages 6 and older.

“Water safety was a big concern last year – you didn’t have swim lessons as an option,” Jones said. “Even though it’s going to look a little bit different – as well with the (limited) capacity of each class – bringing that back is going to be huge for the community.”

Pools also will be available for private swim team rentals and paid adult lap swimming, both of which require preregistration. Swim teams will be able to hold meets if they comply with safety guidelines.

Open swim is free but will be limited to one hour per week at each facility. Preregistration is required, with capacity inside each center limited to 50 people.

Although they are allowed to operate under the current state guidelines, the city’s splash pads are not expected to reopen this year barring a change in restrictions. Officials cited the impracticality of enforcing safety protocols, which are the same for splash pads as they are for indoor aquatic centers.

“Preregistering at a splash pad – how do we do that? How do we monitor capacity? Would you have to fence it? There’s still just a lot of unknowns, questions, and gray areas,” Jones said.

Expansion

While that’s the current plan, it’s not the goal.

Spokane Parks hopes to earn about $213,000 in community funding to support expanded operations, particularly to provide more time slots for open swimming.

“That is the biggest area. Yes we have a foundational service model, but from a staff perspective, we need to fund that open swim. That’s what a majority of our citizens are using our facilities for,” Jones said.

But more swimming requires more money. Even under the basic approach outlined Monday, operating the aquatic centers will require the department to dip into its budget for an additional $244,394. The park fund is separate from the city’s general fund.

In normal years, the financial losses incurred at the city’s aquatic centers are offset by revenues accrued in other parks programs. But with Parks programming like athletic leagues still limited during the pandemic, it’s forced to absorb the losses.

The rules

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are no known instances of COVID-19 transmission between people through the water of a public pool. But the rules still will be strict.

Those not using the pool will be required to wear a mask.

For swim lessons, participants will be required to remain at least 6 feet apart. If close contact with swimmers is required, instructors will wear face shields with a cloth attachment. That contact will be limited to no more than five minutes at a time.

Parents can hop in the pool and offer their child support while instructors remain on the pool perimeter.

For lap swimming and team practices, no more than two people can occupy the same lane. Swimmers are not allowed to be within 6 feet of each other while resting unless there is a physical barrier between them.

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