I have worked in aquatics for many years, and thought I knew how to create a pool schedule diverse enough to promote all types of water activities — recreational swimming, lap swimming, swim lessons, swim team programs, Masters swimming, water exercise classes, springboard diving programs and more. Nevertheless, what I knew wasn’t enough to keep my head above water!

When I began as aquatic director, it was for a city with more than 40 pools. My predecessor already had a pool schedule in place, based on past experiences, staff input, daily attendance reports, end-of-year pool surveys and available funds.

By the time summer started, however, complaints about pool scheduling were bombarding the parks and recreation director, the city manager, the mayor and the city council. Simultaneously, I noticed that while I spent so much time attempting to address dissatisfied community members, I had not devoted enough hours to evaluating the safety and maintenance of my facilities.

This would become my nightmare. But the complaints were just, and things had to change.

We created a comprehensive survey asking about how we were doing and what needed to be improved. At summer’s end, we compiled the survey information and created a draft schedule. I presented our findings to the neighborhood groups.

My hope was that by sharing this information, it would reduce complaints and create synergy. Quite the opposite occurred. Complaints quickly shifted from city administration directly to me. After further assessment, we learned that because the survey was done at the end of summer, most respondents were lap swimmers, not families with children whose needs are drastically different.

So I laid out what was then a very bold recommendation: Why not let the neighborhood associations determine their own pool schedules? That way, the community could have a direct say and represent its own best interests. Consequently, I visited more than 140 neighborhood associations, explaining our past processes for creating a pool schedule and our failures. I asked if they’d like to offer input on the total number of hours the pool was budgeted and the department’s swimming programs schedule. I noted that the schedule had to remain continuous during the day, so there would be no break that might create problems with lifeguard and staff scheduling.

Each neighborhood group then created its own survey. By the third year, we successfully created a schedule that was given to us by each neighborhood group. The results were extraordinary: Complaints were reduced by 99 percent. Anytime someone wanted to change the schedule, we referred them to their specific neighborhood group.

The next year, we told the groups the cost per hour to operate their facilities. Many raised enough money to not only extend their pool hours, but also to sponsor another facility that may have been in a low-income neighborhood in need of additional funding.

The Lessons

1 Take a risk. With upper management’s approval, you can take appropriate risks, and reduce your pool headaches.

2 Empower your neighborhood groups. Listen to your constituents; let them offer input on the pool schedule. It can reduce complaints and increase your customer satisfaction rating.

3 Share budget info. Often we are reluctant to be transparent with our data. Don’t be. Educate your community so it can give an informed opinion. This will only help you and the collaboration efforts.