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Columbus Council has decided to let two more pieces of aging infrastructure stand in disrepair as they debate spending more money on repairing city-operated outdoor pools or convert them to splash pads.
City Parks and Recreation Director Holli Browder has confirmed that the Psalmond Road and Shirley Winston pools will remain closed for the 2019 season, which starts May 25, because the council is not currently funding repairs necessary to reopen the pools.
Repairs would cost at least $560,000 and converting them into splash pads would be $2 million per pool.
The city’s two other outdoor pools, Double Churches and Rigdon, will open on time.
This makes the second summer in a row the pools have not been available for citizens to use.
A history of issues
Last March, Columbus Council approved $500,000 for emergency repairs to fix significant leaking problems at the Psalmond Road and Shirley Winston pools, though the Parks and Recreation Department did not have a funding source for the repairs.
The council and city manager discussed using salary savings in the parks and recreation budget or funds from the city’s fund balance to finance the repairs.
In April 2018, Browder announced the two pools would remain closed for the 2018 pool season. She told the council at the time that the expense to assess the conditions at the pools cost more than originally estimated, and that contractors couldn’t guarantee the work would be completed by May 30, the scheduled opening day.
In January of this year, Browder told the council that just an assessment to determine the extent of the leaks could cost up to $30,000 per pool.
“Unfortunately we won’t know until an assessment is done how bad they really are,” she said.
The expense would come on the shoulders of over $576,000 spent on the Rigdon, Shirley Winston and Psalmond Road facilities in 2016 to bring them up to date. In January 2017, repairs were performed on Shirley Winston to fix leaking, costing the city $50,000.
The Psalmond Road, Ridgon and Shirley Winston pools all opened in 2002 and each cost approximately $1.99 million to construct. The Double Churches pool, which was built before 1999, was remodeled in 2010 for $2.2 million.
The Aquatic Center opened in 2013, and cost $10.6 million.
Splash pads potential answer?
Browder said she wanted to see the pools reopen, but that the city cannot continue to patch the pools due to the high cost. She asked the councilors to consider transforming the pools into splash pads, which are outdoor play areas that have sprinklers, fountains and other interactive features that spray water.
“What we would like to have council consider is taking at least those two pools at this point and going forward as splash pads,” she said. “They are a way for our department to continue like services, for the community to still use them, and also we could continue to operate them to receive revenue.”
If the council approves, next steps would be gathering cost estimates and identifying funding sources. Browder said an unofficial estimate for turning the pools into splash pads would be around $1.5 to $2 million per project, with an estimated construction time of 12 to 16 weeks after a vendor is selected.
District 6 Councilor Gary Allen, whose district includes the Psalmond Road pool, said that splash pads make the most sense going forward.
“We need to just rethink what type of quality swimming environment we can provide for the citizens that’s also cost effective for the city,” Allen said. “You just get to a point even in private business where you evaluate things that are going on and you have to make a decision on whether to keep putting money in it or reevaluate... and move on to a different type way to offer the same type product for the public.”
Allen said he has had complaints about the closures, but that citizens seem to understand closing the pools is what’s best.
“I had a couple calls about it and emails and once I explained what was going on to them, the neighbors understood,” he said.
Allen said funding for the splash pads would probably be included in a SPLOST that the council would ask voters to approve for the government center.
Despite the two pools being closed, Browder told council last week during her budget presentation that her current aquatics budget is not adequate to run the other two pools that will be open this summer.
The department’s 2019 aquatics budget for the outdoor pools was reduced by $201,942.16 from what it was in 2018, sustaining cuts to funding for maintenance, merchandise, materials and other related expenditures due to the closure of the Psalmond Road and Shirley Winston pools.
The mayor’s 2020 proposed budget would keep funding at the 2019 level, and Browder has requested an amendment to increase the budget by $165,750.
Browder stated she was incurring the same costs as before, because the swimmers that were frequenting Shirley Winston and Psalmond Road pools are now visiting the other two pools, doubling the pools’ capacity and effectively doubling the chemicals, merchandise and lifeguards required as well.
“What we’ve asked for is to have our budget restored to what we had in fiscal year 2018,” Browder said. “Currently our outdoor pool operating budget is already over by about $1,200, and the way our budget works and the way the pool season works, we spend half a season in one budget and half a season in the next budget. We are definitely going to go over in our outdoor aquatics budget this year, we already know that, because we just don’t have the money, we just weren’t funded as we had requested.”
What could be available this summer
Browder is expected to present options to the council at some point for another Summer Fun Pass like the one implemented last year. The pass gave children 18 and under who normally used the Psalmond Road and Shirley Winston Pools free admission and free Metra passes to travel to the Double Churches and Rigdon pools as well as the Columbus Aquatic Center.
Browder said in January that 3,532 summer passes were given out in 2018.
“I can tell you they were used, and they were used a lot,” she said. “For the very first time in a very long time, or at least as long as I can remember, we had to have someone sit at the gate with a people counter to click people in and click people out because we were just that busy most of our days.”
The 2019 passes could include the same access to the city pools, Aquatic Center and Metra as well as the Civic Center’s ice rink, along with a potential new partnership with the Columbus Public Library System, Browder said.
Starting May 25, hours for the Double Churches and Rigdon pools will be noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 11 a.m to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Aquatic Center hours will be 6 a.m to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Admission fees are required at all city pools. More information about pricing can be found on the parks and recreation website.
The season for Double Churches ends August 11 and the season for Rigdon ends August 4.