Swiminc receives grant from city to help keep Worthington Pools afloat

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group
Keeler Callahan, Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne swimming head coach, watches his swimmers go through drills during practice Jan. 26 at the Worthington Pools indoor facility. Callahan said his teams utilize the natatorium and its six-lane, 25-yard pool six days a week on average during the preseason and regular season. The facility plays host to eight to 10 swim meets on average in a normal year, he said.

Worthington City Council recently awarded Worthington Pools operator Swiminc Inc. an $85,260 grant to help fund its 2021 operating expenses after significant revenue losses the past year because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The grant, which was approved at council’s Jan. 19 meeting and was requested through the city’s annual community-grant program, will cover two months of Swiminc’s employee wages, salaries and benefits and help it avoid staff losses while also supporting “needed capital investments” to prepare the pools for a planned Memorial Day opening, according to a Nov. 11 letter from Swiminc president Mike Keller to City Manager Matt Greeson.

Swiminc, which operates the indoor and outdoor pool facilities on the grounds of Thomas Worthington High School, 400 W. Dublin-Granville Road, and runs all of its programs – endured significant revenue losses as the outdoor pools were closed from Memorial Day through Labor Day in 2020, according to the letter.

“One of their top sources of income is summer swimming, the outdoor pool. And that’s been shut all year – it never opened,” council President Bonnie Michael said. "So one of their main methods of generating operating expenses was never available.”

Swiminc collected approximately $200,000 in revenue from March to August in 2020, a 77% decline from its approximately $880,000 in revenue during the same period in 2019, according to Swiminc’s grant application.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state COVID-19 guidelines also curtailed operations at the indoor natatorium to half capacity while operation and maintenance expenses rose considerably because of expanded sanitation measures, according to Keller’s letter. 

The letter said Swiminc’s expenditures totaled $133,000 from March to August 2020, about a 66% increase from 2019, when the organization spent about $80,000 on operating costs during the same period.

“Between diminished revenues and higher costs, it is entirely possible that the funds needed to prepare in April and May for the 2021 summer season will not be available,” Keller wrote in the letter.

Keller could not be reached for further comment before this story's publication.  

“The pool really services the community,” Michael said. “It’s where all the competitive swimming takes place. It’s also available for public and indoor use. We wanted to be able to set them up so they can possibly open this summer.”

According to the grant application, the grant funds will cover 6.5% of Swiminc’s estimated operating expenses in 2021.

The organization won’t need to request more funding, “provided COVID-19 subsides,” the grant application said, but it may need more financial support if circumstances do not improve.

Although the outdoor pools were closed last year, the letter said the indoor natatorium reopened August and is in use by the Thomas Worthington and Worthington Kilbourne high school swimming teams.

Their seasons have continued despite the pandemic – albeit with restrictions and fewer events. 

Worthington Schools pays Swiminc $125,000 annually for the natatorium’s use by its swimming and water polo teams, according to district spokeswoman Vicki Gnezda. 

Thomas and Kilbourne swimming coach Keeler Callahan said his teams utilize the natatorium and its six-lane, 25-yard pool six days a week on average during the preseason and regular season. The facility plays host to eight to ten swim meets on average in a normal year, he said. 

“Not many schools have a situation like we do where we don’t have to worry about outside groups trying to schedule time or cutting into practice time,” he said. “We kind of get first-serve of what we want from the pool, and they’ve always been super accommodating with what we want, and it’s hard to imagine a much better situation. 

“It’s kind of like we have our own little bubble down here. And basically whatever our program needs, we can fit it in with our facility.”

Callahan said maintenance staff members have been extremely attentive to sanitizing the natatorium throughout the year. He said staff members sweep the facility and quickly but thoroughly wipe down all surfaces and high-touch points after each swimming group is finished and before the next one begins practicing.

He said when all the Worthington swimming teams are done, staff members run through the same routine several more times a day as other swimming club groups come and go. 

“It’s about four, five, six, seven times a day that they’re going through and extensively cleaning everything,” Callahan said. “And it’s within minutes. They’re not taking their time. They’re getting it done quickly but they’re doing it effectively and keeping us safe.”

On top of immediate funding concerns, the pool facilities continue to age and are in need of renovation, according to Swiminc officials.

Michael said city officials had discussions with district and Swiminc officials Nov. 30 about establishing a joint recreation district between the city and school district. If enacted, the joint district would be its own taxing entity and would encompass all city and Worthington Schools residents, she said. 

Although the recent talks still are preliminary and no timetable has been set, Michael said, a joint district would help fund a $4.6 million renovation that’s been under red tape for several years.

Talks of a joint recreation district have been floated since 2019. 

“We’ve had some meetings with school and city and Swiminc officials to talk about how to get one set up and what to do and start to try to move it off dead center,” Michael said. “Part of the reason we’re trying to get the recreation district in place is because of the great need for renovations to the pool.”

In addition to providing short-term funding for Swiminc, council also approved on Jan. 19 grants of $55,000 for the the Worthington Partnership, $51,000 for the Worthington Partnership’s convention-and-visitors bureau activities and $32,500 for the Worthington Historical Society as part of the community-grant program.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve