Recreational facilities come at a cost to cities
by David Atchison
Dec 22, 2013 | 2777 views |  0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bob Crisp/The Daily Home
Talladega City has an indoor pool that is opened year-round.
Bob Crisp/The Daily Home

Talladega City has an indoor pool that is opened year-round.
Municipal pools are enjoyed by many people, but these recreational facilities come at a cost.

“It’s very expensive to have a city pool,” said Talladega Parks and Recreation Director Stacy Jones. “But, it’s a good thing to have.”

The Talladega City pool was built in the 1970’s said Brian Hutton, the aquatics director for the Talladega City Pool.

Hutton said there is a lot of work and upkeep that comes with a municipal pool.

“It takes daily work, seven days a week,” he said. “The biggest thing is making sure it’s clean and that the chemicals are exactly right.”

He said it was more difficult when he first began overseeing the operation of the pool 13 years ago.

Hutton said the municipal indoor pool is about 25 meters long. It is used year-round.

“We have about half the attendance during the winter,” he said.

Pell City officials are expected to dive into the pool arena and have plans to borrow about $1.5 million for the construction of a new municipal pool.

City officials have discussed building an outdoor pool adjoining to the back of the Pell City Civic Center. A bubble for the pool would be installed so pool operations could continue through the late fall, winter and early spring months.

“That could change,” said Pell City City Manager Patrick Draper.

He said there are factors that need to be cleared up or addressed and the city officials are considering all their options.

The have been some discussions about a possible Phase II plan, which would include a municipal pool with wellness center, built near or on the St. Vincent’s St. Clair Hospital property.

Drapers said studies show that participation can go up as much as 75-percent with a wellness center adjacent to a hospital.

“Our goal is still the same,” Draper said. “We want to provide city residents with a municipal pool.”

While Talladega and Sylacauga Parks and Recreation Departments oversee their own pools, Pell City is partnering with the Birmingham YMCA to run the city’s pool operation, if a new municipal pool is constructed.

Jim Armstrong, the executive director for the Sylacauga Parks and Recreation Department, said the partnership between Pell City and the YMCA could be a good thing.

“The city is still going to be liable if something happens,” Armstrong said.

In accordance with the agreement between the YMCA and Pell City, the non-profit organization will pay the salaries of all pool employees. The city would provide the pool, utilities and other maintenance costs for the municipal pool.

Armstrong said labor costs for the Sylacauga pool is estimated at about $5,500 a month during the summer, when there is peak usage of the municipal pool.

He also recommends building a zero entry pool, which Draper said the city is considering.

“It takes a little more space,” Armstrong said, adding that there is less worry about someone slipping and falling when people enter and exit the pool. It also provides better accessibility for everyone.

Both the Talladega and Sylacauga pools are much busier during the summer when children are out of school.

Talladega and Sylacauga officials said cities are lucky to break even on pool costs during the summer.

“A pool is a big hole you put money into,” Armstrong joked.

Both officials said a municipal pool does improve the quality of life for residents.

Armstrong strongly recommends that Pell City not use a pool bubble but instead build an indoor pool, if there are plans to use the pool year-round.

Sylacauga used a plastic bubble to cover the municipal pool during the colder months of the year.

“It’s been gone for three-plus years,” Armstrong said. “It was eating us alive.”

He said the gas cost to keep the bubble up and the space heated cost the city $10,000-$14,000 a month.

“Hind sight, we would have put up a permanent structure,” Armstrong said.

He said blowers had to run 24 hours a day to keep the bubble up over the pool, and two water heaters were used to keep the pool water warm.

In addition, there were not enough people using the pool during the winter to help cover the cost of winter operations for the pool.

“Knowing what I know now, I would never recommend a bubble,” Armstrong said. “It was bad expensive for me. We weren’t even making enough to cover the cost of labor (during the winter months).”

He said the bubble was also worrisome. If there was a power failure, the bubble could collapse and fall into the pool.

Armstrong said it took a team of volunteers to put the plastic bubble up, about 25 people in all.

“I hated the fall to come, and I’m a person who loves the fall,” he said.

He said workers had to worry about tearing or damaging the plastic bubble.

“When everything is said and done, you basically have a big piece of plastic that costs $300,000,” Armstrong said.

Although the operation and cost of building a municipal pool is expensive, both Hutton and Armstrong said it’s all worth it.

“A pool is a wonderful thing,” Armstrong said. “It does improve the quality of life.”

Armstrong said the Sylacauga pool is wide open, non-stop, during the summer months.

Hutton said the Talladega City pool provides all types of activities year-round for people of all ages.

“During the summer we’re open 12 hours a day,” Hutton said.

He said the Talladega City pool offers swim lessons, water aerobics, swim teams and open swims for all ages.

“The important thing is keeping the people happy, so they continue to come,” Hutton said.

The Parks and Recreation Department also rents the pool out for parties on Saturdays.

Fees to use the pool and various pool classes or activities are priced reasonably.

“You can’t over-charge, or you will be dead in the water,” Hutton said.