You don’t know what you’ve got till
it’s gone.That truism from song and story is
unfolding in the aquatics world this swim season. As the
world economy belly-flops, budgets for aquatics have become
strained, forcing municipalities here and abroad to make
tough choices about aquatics facilities.
To make matters worse, the federal Pool and Spa Safety
Act has created even more financial uncertainty about the
viability of the local pool.
As a result, some facilities are opening several weeks
late this year. Those are the lucky ones. The more dire
cases are closing altogether. In some cases, multiple
facilities in major metro areas are shutting their
You may have already heard about these cases. What you
may not have heard, however, is that these closings are not
happening without a fight. And what’s so
surprising — and inspiring — is who is
fighting for them: the public. It seems people will live
with pot-holed streets, crumbling bridges and outdated
energy grids. But take away their swimming pools, and
prepare for battle.
That’s the case in Astoria, Ore., where a
threatened closure of the indoor pool has residents up in
arms. The aquatics center is “probably one of the
best services the city of Astoria offers,” says
Steve Hawks, who pays to use the pool even though he lives
outside the city limits. Hawks says swimming helped him
lose 90 pounds last year and also is a boon to senior
citizens, according to the local paper.
Similar stories are playing out around the globe. In the
United States, the Philadelphia mayor has taken a more
proactive approach with the Splash & Summer FUNd
program aimed at keeping local pools open.
These tales may be great morale boosters for operators
who are struggling to keep their own facilities open this
season, and those lucky enough to avoid such struggles. But
neither group should take too much comfort in them.
The truth is, no amount of public support or goodwill
can save aquatics facilities unless the industry starts
changing the way it views operations. In most cases,
it’s understood that public facilities operate at
a loss and rely on subsidies. That’s why they are
such a risk in this budget-minded environment.
That’s the case for the aforementioned indoor pool
Those days of largess are over, maybe for good. To stay
viable in today’s world, operators need to start
thinking of their facilities more like businesses and less
like charities. They must show politicians and even the
public that aquatics can pay its own way. They must operate
smarter and better than they ever have before. Some of that
can happen through simple education. After all, you
can’t operate smarter if you don’t
understand basics such as water chemistry.
At the same time, operators must begin thinking about
themselves as conservationists. Aquatics facilities are
expensive to operate, but they don’t have to be
inefficient. Something as simple as a pool cover can save
thousands in energy and chemicals.
This may not be the message you want to hear as you
strive to get your pools open with less than ever before.
But it’s better to think about it now than later,
when you realize that you didn’t know what you had
until it was gone.