A Pool in Every Neighborhood? HOWARD COUNTY

February 24, 1993

When it comes to swimming pools and Columbia, we are reminded of past promises too grand to be realistic: A chicken in every pot. Forty acres and a mule. No new taxes.

In Columbia, the promise has been a pool in every neighborhood. But unlike the others, Columbia's promise has defied logic and is now a near-reality.

To complete the dream, the Columbia Council is moving ahead with plans for two new pools. One is in the Kendall Ridge section of Long Reach Village, where residents have fought hard for a pool for years. The other is in the new village of River Hill.

Each pool could cost about $1 million to construct. Neither is essential.

So, just how pool-heavy is Columbia?

To service a population of about 80,000 people, the city already has 21 outdoor and three indoor pools. According to guidelines set by the National Parks and Recreation Commission, Columbia has enough pools for a city of 450,000.

Granted, the commission may be a little stingy in its allocation. After all, the guidelines suggest that Columbia residents can hardly move without stepping in a pool. Considering the unquenchable thirst for chlorinated aqua, one would think Columbia pools would have a better attendance record. In fact, officials report that many pools are underutilized. Seven pools record less than 10,000 visits a year, while the busiest pools log in more than 41,000 visits annually.

As a whole, Columbia pools lose money to the tune of $1.4 million a year.

So, you may ask, why build two more?

The answer is that pools have become an entitlement in Columbia. No one dares say "no" to a neighborhood without one. Nor has anyone dared close a pool due to poor attendance.

Traditions being what they are, this one will not be broken. The bottom line is that the proposition of a pool in every neighborhood will prevail in Columbia -- even though it's all wet.

One hopeful sign is that volleyball courts, when constructed at swimming pool facilities, have been shown to increase attendance among teens and young adults. Moving in that direction may be a lot easier than bucking a tradition as deeply embedded as swimming pools in Columbia.

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