By Rick Palsgrove
It could be a long, hot summer as Groveport City Council considers whether or not to open the city’s outdoor Aquatic Center swimming pool.
Governor Mike DeWine announced that, beginning May 26, public swimming pools and club pools regulated by local (county) health departments can re-open if the facilities meet required safety protocols in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
However, according to Groveport City Administrator B.J. King, the safety rules outlined by the state, “Present a tremendous challenge to us for opening the outdoor Groveport Aquatic Center, particularly in regards to the six foot social distancing standard.”
“So the state is saying, we can open the Groveport Aquatic Center, but then we can’t open it,” observed Groveport City Councilwoman Jean Ann Hilbert.
A full list of mandatory and recommended best practices rules for pools are available at coronavirus.ohio.gov. It does not apply to water parks or amusement parks. Safety protocols for those venues are in development, according to state officials.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas, or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance (including disinfection with chlorine and bromine) of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water.
King said the state’s rules indicate there must be physical and visual social distancing barriers in the pool and on the pool deck.
“Envision 6×6 foot cubes in the pool,” said King. “I don’t know how we do that. It limits the size and amount of the outdoor pool we can use, especially in the deep end. How would you get access to the middle cube? It would be like a human aquarium. It would not offer a good experience for patrons. People will get upset. We would need a police presence at the pool.”
Groveport Recreation Director Kyle Lund said of the 6×6 foot cubes in the pool, “It was a shock to us. Unless you’re small, it limits you to just standing in the water.”
Lund said the city needs more clarification from the Franklin County Health Department regarding the specifics of the pool opening safety guidelines.
According to Lund, the outdoor Groveport Aquatic Center has a normal maximum occupancy of 800 to 1,000 people. Under the state and county safety rules, the occupancy level would drop to 160.
If the outdoor Groveport Aquatic Center does open, Lund said admittance would be by day passes only and no memberships would be sold. He said the pool could be open for separate sessions with a period set aside for sanitizing the facility between sessions. The lazy river, slides, and spray ground would not be used. There would be no special events at the pool, no swim lessons, no rentals, and no swim team. He said the pool season would end when school starts in August.
Lund also worried that the facility’s lifeguards would be at risk if the pool opens.
“The lifeguards are going to be exposed (potentially to the coronavirus) during rescues,” said Lund.
Council members expressed concerns about opening the pool.
“It sounds like a huge task,” said Councilman Scott Lockett. “Plus, not a lot of people could use the pool.”
Councilman Chad Grashel said opening the pool presents many feasibility challenges and Hilbert added, “We’re going through a scary health time.”
Councilman Ed Dildine observed, “I wish the state would have made it easier to open so we could give people a little bit of hope.”
King said it is “very doubtful” the city would have the pool ready and safety measures in place for a May 26 opening if council decides to open the facility.
“I recommend we make a decision on opening the Groveport Aquatic Center by June 5,” King told city council on May 18. “It depends on what further information the Franklin County Health Department provides. If we have to install the 6×6 foot safety grids in the pool, I would recommend we not open.”
In a related matter, Lund said staff is working to re-open the Groveport Recreation Center, but a firm date for re-opening has not yet been set. King said the recreation center will re-open when everything there is “ready to go.”
“The indoor pool in the recreation center is more manageable with occupancy limits and social distancing requirements. You could limit it to one person per lane for lap swimming,” said Lund. “The outdoor pool is more entertainment oriented, it’s considered a special pool, it’s more like a water park. The indoor pool is more fitness oriented. Each pool has a different clientele.”
Lund said exercise equipment in the recreation center will be spaced out for social distancing, the climbing wall and locker rooms will be closed, and sanitizing efforts will be ongoing.
Council will discuss the opening of the Groveport Aquatic Center further at its meeting on May 26 at 6:30 p.m. in the municipal building, 655 Blacklick St.