State budget shortfalls don’t necessarily spell doom for aquatics centers, which are seen as providing a valuable — and usually affordable — recreation resource to communities. However, departments already working on tight budgets may face tough choices to keep their facilities up and running.
Ann Blizzard, recreation supervisor of aquatics in Troy, Mich., is no stranger to the difficult decisions that come with budget cuts. During the economic slump of 2002, a council member suggested shutting down the city’s outdoor Troy Family Aquatics Center. The facility includes a zero-depth entry pool, a kiddie area with waterfeatures, two water slides and a sand area with a playscape.
In response, a citizens’ group organized to save the facility, and the council soon realized that closing was not an option. “That’s when we found out how much support there was in the community,” Blizzard says.
To keep the facility open, Blizzard’s department implemented cost-saving measures such as eliminating service-oriented staff positions that were not directly related to safety. They also opened up park admission to nonresidents to increase revenues and keep entry fees affordable.
“Our mind-set was that we’re still a parks and recreation department. We don’t want to go into the private realm of pricing,” she says. “By opening it up to other people, we’re not raising rates for residents by 50 percent and pricing [them] out.”
Today, the facility operates on a $634,000 annual budget. While TFAC does not turn a profit, the goal is to cover costs, and Blizzard says they usually come within $500, less depreciation. “We really run it like a business,” she says.