Pool makes a splash

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 The Swim Club

Pickerington City Council has approved the purchase of The Swim Club, a privately owned outdoor pool located one block east of State Route 256 on Stone Creek Drive NW.

No tax money will be spent on the $924,700 facility. The sellers, Dave and Andrea Watros, will sell the pool for $269,700 below the appraised value as a charitable donation to the city parks. Impact fees will cover the remaining $655,500 over the next three years.

The Pickerington Park Department collects an impact fee of $1,600 for every new house built within the city. In 2007, 130 homes were built and Pickerington estimates another 100 will be built in 2008.

"By law, impact fees may not be used for repair or maintenance of public facilities, or for operational or personnel expenses," said Pickerington Interim City Manager Tim Hansley. "Additionally, parks and recreation impact fees must be spent for acquisition and development of parks and recreation facilities. They cannot be used to hire policeman or pave streets."

Not all of the park impact fees will go to the pool. There will still be funding available for other projects including the replacement of playground equipment at Victory Park.

Membership fees and concession sales will pay for operating costs such as staff wages.

"It’s a unique opportunity that sounds almost too good to be true," Hansley said.

"We encourage all of our residents to sign up," Councilwoman Cristie Hammond said.

Council approved the purchase by a vote of 6-0 at its Feb. 5 meeting. (Councilman Michael Sabatino was absent.)

Operations

During the first few months of the year, the pool must rehire staff and sell memberships.

Memberships sold during the winter cover the operating costs when the facility opens in May. Last year’s hot summer should equate to high preseason sales, Hansley said.

Although Pickerington residents will receive a discount, the pool facility will collect enough money from membership fees to make a profit. The earnings from the first few years will be reserved for the pool itself, afterwards the profits may be spent on other park properties or the city’s general fund.

The purpose of the pool was "not to make money," Hansley said. "It’s not a cash cow."

Currently, the parks department does not intend to raise the fee non-residents pay to use the facility, conversely the city may consider a price reduction because it would not charge sales tax.

Pricing for non-residents and residents will be determined once the finance committee approves a budget for the pool. For a guide, The Swim Club Web site at www.swim-club.com provides pricing as of last year. For example, a family membership is listed as $318 for the season. The pool opens in late May and closes in early September.

Daily passes will not be offered, however the parks department will consider selling passes for as few as five days. The city will announce the sale of pool passes in mid-March.

The finance committee will need to discuss the pool’s budget before prices will be announced. The pool will be listed as a separate account on the city’s budget.

About the pool

In a 2006 survey, nearly 72 percent of Pickerington residents agreed that the city should build and operate an outdoor pool.

In addition to a wading pool, a bath house and a concession stand, the facility includes an 8,650 square foot heated pool. Because it is heated, the facility will remain open longer than many other outdoor pools. In 2007, the pool closed most nights at 9 p.m.

Commercial pool consultant Phil Patterson told the city that the facility had been well-maintained. The city also enlisted a CPA who deemed The Swim Club profitable.

Transition

For the Watros family, the operation of the pool took time away from their growing family. With Dave teaching during the school year at Pickerington North High School and the operation of The Swim Club during the summer, the couple never vacationed with their four small children.

They wanted the pool to retain its character, therefore they turned to Pickerington. They had formed a good relationship with the city by offering swim lessons through the parks department.

"(The pool is) still a great place to raise a family," Andrea said.

To ensure a smooth transition, the Watros family will help the city operate the pool this year. The couple already spoke with several lifeguards who are interested in returning. Dave will also continue to coach the pool’s swim team, the Tiger Sharks.

"We thank you for giving to the community," Councilwoman and Swim Club member Tricia Sanders told the Watros family.

The parks department plans to use the facility as more than a pool. Currently the department relies on school buildings and the downtown Pickerington Museum to offer classes, but in the future some of those programs may move to the pool site. The new property could also host movies in the park.

Reactions

Former city councilman Ted Hackworth said he would like for the city to cover the pool so that it may remains open all year round.

Hackworth said that the Pickerington school district currently rents pool time for the high school swim teams from the YMCAs in Lancaster and on Refugee Road at a rate of $100,000 per year. He would like for the teams to practice closer to home.

He suggests a temporary balloon-like roof to cover the pool until a permanent structure can be built.

Violet Township resident Lisa Ross, who along with her husband Donald runs the Chevington community pool, said she, too, would like a year-round pool in the area.

She said she hopes that in future years that the rates at the Swim Club will not rise for non-residents. Many of the pool’s current members are kids from the township who ride their bikes to the facility.

Ross said a lot of volunteer hours and "sweat equity" go into the running of a pool.

"That’s a big job," Ross said. "Honestly pools are not in the business to make money. It’s hard (to run a pool) when you have a family and it can be very expensive. I don’t really see a private individual going to do that."

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