With the new natatorium less than a year from opening, the city is weighing different options for operating the swimming facility.
During a work session Tuesday morning, Parks and Recreation Director James Worsley presented Columbus Council with an update on the facility. Worsley's report examined advantages and disadvantages of hiring a third party to manage the facility and called for establishing an advisory committee. It also proposed bringing in a consultant to develop a market study, then an economic impact study and looking into establishing a natatorium foundation to help finance the facility long term.
Worsley said he and his department studied several natatoriums around the country, particularly one in DeKalb County in metro Atlanta that is operated by a third party.
The advantages of that setup include eliminating the cost of recruiting, hiring and training staff and day-to-day operations. It also means sharing the cost of risk management, Worsley said.
Disadvantages include losing total control over the fa
cility, services being offered based on profit, not public need, and possible health and safety shortcuts taken to enhance profits.
Worsley told councilors he is not sold on hiring out management of the natatorium, but he wants to put out a request for proposals to see what natatorium management companies might have to offer.
Mayor Teresa Tomlinson liked the idea of using the RFP process as a learning tool.
"I think that's an excellent idea. First of all, we might find a third-party company out that's just a cracker jack," Tomlinson said. "The other thing that's so good about RFPs, whether you end up hiring folks or not, is that they give you information and ideas and they broaden your mind about what the options are out there."
Worsley said the proposed advisory committee would include representatives from Aflac, YMCA, Columbus Hurricanes, the Muscogee County School District, Friends of the Natatorium, Boys & Girls Club, Girls Inc., a therapeutic recreation advocate, senior citizens advocate, a Recreation Advisory Board member, and a Community Foundation member.
Instead of, or in addition to an advisory committee, Councilor Skip Henderson suggested that the city consider creating a natatorium authority, similar to the Golf Authority and Trade Center Authority, to oversee the facility.
Councilor Judy Thomas suggested that, however the city decides to operate the facility, the decision needs to be made sooner rather than later.
"We're looking at having this baby in about nine months," Thomas said. "We need to decide what color to paint the nursery."