Rocky Fork Enterprise

Residents plead with council to keep pools open

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A school of youth from the Gahanna Swimming Pool Sea Lions and Hunters Ridge Pool Seahorses swim teams packed Gahanna City Council chambers July 21, hoping to convince city leaders to keep the pools open in the future.

Alex Meredith delivered a written speech, saying people are willing to fight for the pools that are slated to close next year.

Meredith said swimmers on the Seahorses team keep busy at the pool during the summer, so they're less likely to get in trouble. If youth don't have the pools to give them something to do, Meredith said, they could get involved in doing something illegal.

"The swimmers and divers will be more likely to take care of their bodies and not drink and smoke," he said.

In addition to the health benefits of swimming and keeping youth occupied, he said, closing the pools would create unemployment for the lifeguards, coaches, administrators and concessionaires.

"That's a lot of people," he said. "I hope you will consider not shutting down the pools. I've been on the Seahorses for seven years now, and I don't plan to quit. Please reconsider not shutting down these two special pools."

Dawn Wright said all three of her children have been on the Hunters Ridge swim team.

"Swimming is a great and lifelong form of exercise," she said. "They've improved their swimming ability and endurance. I feel it's important they have it."

She said it's easy for kids to sit around and watch television, and the swim team gives them a good workout.

"The pool is a bright spot in the community," Wright said. "Please look at the budget and figure out a way to support them."

Chad Cole said the facilities and services provided by the city make Gahanna a top place to live.

He sought clarification on the expenses versus revenues for pool operations.

"It's like any other business," he said. "You will have good and bad years. Let's look at it over the long term."

Cole said the pools provide a great benefit to the community. He said it provides a place for the children to learn how to swim, and it's a low-impact exercise for the elderly.

Gahanna City Council approved a $191,000 contract April 7 to outsource pool operations to Columbus Pool Management. A concessions contract was approved with Cardinal Vending & Concessions that requires the concessionaire to pay the city 6 percent of gross revenue collected.

Parks and recreation director Tony Collins said the net cost of contracting is expected to be $189,000 (broken out by a cost of $191,000 in expenses to Columbus Pool Management and generating revenues of $2,000 through the contract with Cardinal Vending) in 2014, whereas direct in-house operations were projected to cost $194,500.

By contracting pool operations and concessions to other companies, Collins said, remaining recreation division staff would be able to focus more attention on expanding sustainable, revenue-generating operating areas.

Councilman Ryan Jolley agreed with the public comments about the pools.

"I don't think anyone in the city wants to see the pools close," he said. "However, we had a long and difficult discussion last year about the economic realities."

He said one of the pools needs to be completely replaced at a cost of hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars.

"I certainly welcome any ideas and suggestions about what we can do differently to provide those opportunities," Jolley said. "We have a lot of discussions ahead about what the city will do moving forward. I hope you'll remain engaged. Perhaps you'll come up with the idea for us to keep the pools open long term."

Councilman Stephen Renner also encouraged everyone to get engaged.

"We're getting ready to have appropriations discussion," he said. "Look at the budget from top to bottom and give us your concerns."

Councilman Tom Kneeland suggested that residents who are interested in the pools could reach out to the parks and recreation department to obtain the most recent data and status.

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