Pooling Our Money: Exploring the Business of the New Aquatic Center
By Chantel O'Neal & Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
On June 3, the pool officially opened for business, and the business came a runnin’ – with goggles and towels in hand.
Since then, the pool has been put to good use. Program and Aquatics Coordinator Andy Dunston estimates that, on average, 250-300 people use the county’s new Aquatic Center a day. Activities and ages vary from adults swimming laps to Mommy and Me classes for babies older than six months of age. Even the Morgan County Senior Center has classes for water aerobics and arthritis clinics.
From the infants to the elderly, the pool is providing a service for the community as a whole. “It’s a large cross section of the population coming in,” Dunston said, adding that the largest group and busiest time was between 1-3 p.m. when a lot of the children come for open swim.
During the open swim time, the number of parents and children that venture to the pool varies daily. “If it’s cloudy we have about 60; if it’s sunny we have 120,” Morgan County Recreation Department Director Bill Wood said. “I don’t know why - it’s indoors,” he added with a laugh.
Another attraction has been the wide variety of classes, all of which, excluding SCUBA and the after school stroke clinic, have begun and are filling up fast. The most popular are children’s swimming lessons, which are booked through the month of July with 212 already signed up.
Additionally, there are about 30 students on the roster for the year-round competitive swim team, coached by Robin Couch and Shelagh Reitman.
The pool is also available for party reservations on Fridays and Saturdays after 5 p.m. and Sunday afternoons. So far, there have been five pool parties, and plenty more are in the works. “In [the Recreation Department] office, apparently,” Dunston said. “The phone is ringing off the hook for people wanting to do that – we get a lot of use.”
In fact, it’s the usage that appears to be the most effective indicator of whether or not business is booming at the local pool, since the doors have only been open for two weeks and the finances are still a little unclear.
The Recreation Department is working off of estimates and will not have any concrete numerical data until Jan. 1, 2010. “We do not expect to break even [this year],” Wood said. “Because utilities and chemicals are expensive, and we’re only charging two dollars at the door.”
Chemicals must be added to the pool daily to maintain it, but the biggest expense is operating electricity and natural gas. The pool is heated all year and maintains a temperature of 85 degrees, the same temperature as the building. Humidity is also monitored and remains at 55 percent thanks to the dehumidifying system that cost the department over $100,000.
One way the Recreation Department cut costs was by having a core group of employees that were well-trained in a number of areas. Dunston and Chris Sides, who is a staff member of the Recreation Department and a Certified Pool Operator, are both water safety instructors certified to teach swim lessons by Red Cross, certified life guards, and arthritic therapy instructors. Furthermore, Dunston is a trained lifeguard instructor and will be working with a lifeguard training session set to take place in July.
As far as revenue, the largest source is uncertain; both the fees for classes and the cost of day passes are major contributors. “We’re averaging about $250 in the till a day for open swim,” Sides said. “But I’d say our classes – it’s close – I’d say it’s close.”
Even so, profit is the farthest thing from Wood’s mind, in regards to the pool. “We’re not trying to make profit; this is a service,” Wood said. “We’re trying to break even, and don’t expect that this year.”
Whether or not the Aquatic Center is in the red come year’s end, the usage is a positive sign of the thriving future ahead, or at least a future with balanced balance sheets.
“…It’s a rare moment when I don’t have swimmers in the water, and I have received zero complaints, unless pertaining to our enforcement of safety rules,” Dunston said in an email interview. “We have a lot of use, a lot of praise, and new patrons coming in every day.”
With so many swimming for exercise, lessons and good ole’ summer fun, the popularity of the pool is as clear as the water itself.
Printed in the June 18, 2009 Edition.