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 doors.
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 It seems people will live with pot-holed streets, crumbling bridges and outdated energy grids.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 in Astoria.
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.