Pool facilities across southeast Iowa are still hashing out details and plans as they navigate the new guidelines and restrictions set by the Gov. Kim Reynold’s recent proclamation. As of right now, pools are only allowed to provide lap swimming and lessons while still accounting for social distancing.
With free swimming and access to pools still up in the air, local pools are currently preparing for a season that may not happen.
The Mt. Pleasant City Council instructed Parks and Recreation Director Gary Grunow to prepare the pool for an anticipated June 18 opening at their most recent meeting. The city is hoping the governor will loosen restrictions by mid-June to allow for their outdoor pool to operate on an abbreviated schedule.
Grunow explained the season for the community pool usually begins Memorial Day Weekend, closing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursdays, before opening fully once school lets out.
The parks and rec director added pools usually do not make money for the city but is a good resource for the community and gives local children a chance to learn how to swim. Now with a shorter season, the city is looking at even larger profit gap.
“With a shorter season, there may be not as much revenue,” Grunow explained.
On a usual summer season, the pool brings in about $700,000 with about $110,000 in expenses, Mt. Pleasant City Administrator Brent Schleisman said. “The rest is backfilled with property tax. It’s a service for the community, like the public parks,” Schleisman said.
Currently, Grunow is figuring out where to put marks on diving boards and make the pool adaptable to social distancing guidelines. Once he maps out how many people the facility can accommodate, the city will have a more clear picture of whether a pool season will even be possible.
“It’s the desire of the city to open it but there’s still a lot of this in the works. Even if we do open the pool we have to take into account the modified pool season, whether there will be passes, daily intake — there comes a point in cost and revenue when we have to look at how much we would lose versus how much we stand to make,” Schleisman added.
Other pools are plowing ahead with opening their facility with the necessary modifications. This summer at the Washington YMCA, only two people will be allowed to be at their indoor pool at any one time. CEO Amy Schulte said members will be allowed to sign up for 45 minute slots, which will be followed by a 15 minute closing period for staff to clean the area.
With their larger outdoor pool, the facility plans to provide three group sessions of swim lessons beginning June 8 — two in the morning and one in the evening — and two private lesson sessions in the afternoon. Members also will be allowed to access the outdoor pool for lap swimming during lunch hour. The CEO added the YMCA is also operating under the assumption the governor will open up access to pools following June 18.
Like Mt. Pleasant, the YMCA is looking at reduced revenue with the coming season. Schulte said some of the largest pulls for the pool include private parties and concessions, neither or which the Y will be able provide this year.
“There is going to be a financial impact for the entire season. There’s also going to be a financial impact on the seasonal staff [if the pool does not open]. For a lot of high school and college students, it’s a good summer job,” Schulte said.
If and when the pool opens up to the general public, the CEO also said the YMCA plans to limit access to residents of the immediate area.
“Our concern is that because other pools in other communities are not going to open, we want to make sure the local community is able to use the facility they paid for and is supported by them,” she said.
The Maharishi International University is one pool that has currently decided to forgo the current pool season. Thomas Brooks, Vice President of Operations for the university, also said he anticipates it will “lose more this year than others,” should they open. Access to the pool for students, who comprise the majority of customers, is included with tuition.
“The pool is a loss leader. It’s not a moneymaker by any means but it’s a nice bonus for some students,” Brooks said.
The VP of Operations explained a large part of costs go to staff and upkeep of the pool including lifeguards and chemicals to clean the water. In addition to loss of revenue, Brooks also anticipates it will be harder to attract staff.
“I think it’s still a question here. We’ve decided not to do it right now because there are still concerns here [with coronavirus cases]. It’s too early to go hog wild and we’d rather be safe and sit this out,” he said.