Fee increase at city-run swimming pools might leave some residents high and dry

Facilities will still operate at deficit, officials say

June 03, 1999|By Amy Oakes | Amy Oakes,SUN STAFF

Kyeshane and Tyrike, both 3, and their friends at East Baltimore's Barnett's Angels Day Care Center will have to find another way to cool off when the summer heats up.

Their usual soaking spot, Ambrose Kennedy Pool, won't be an option, because the city has raised admission fees for the first time in nine years, which puts the public pool out of the day care center's expense range.

The city says the increase will help defray operating costs, but some say the higher fees, approved last week by the Board of Estimates, underscore the rising cost of being poor in the city.

"It's unfair to the kids, but I can't afford to take them to the pool this summer," said Gerald Nay, who runs the center in the 700 block of Mura St. "It's hard on the parents because they don't have the funds to send kids to the pool, and that's why they [turn] the fire hydrants on."

Admission fees at the Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks' 14 neighborhood pools and five park swimming facilities will increase this year, but they will still operate at a deficit, said Portia Harris, assistant director of the aquatic division.

The daily fee at the neighborhood pools is $1, up from 75 cents. The fee for season passes has doubled, to $10. For the park pools, daily entry is $1.50, a 50-cent increase, and season passes are $25, up from $15. Admission for the three indoor pools, $1 for entry and $15 per season, remains the same.

"It'll be used in the general operation of the aquatic division," Harris said. "We haven't had an increase since 1991, and it doesn't get any cheaper to run the pools."

To maintain the facilities -- which operate from June 19 to as late as Aug. 29, depending on the type of pool -- Harris estimated it costs the city more than $1 million annually.

Last summer, 217,000 people used the city's pools, according to department estimates.

Because most of the pools are more than 20 years old, Harris said, "the maintenance on them tends to be expensive."

"We're not going to make any profit from the admission fees."

Mary Ross, president of Johnston Square Community Development Corp., said the increased fees will prevent many residents in her area from going to the pool as often as they used to. Johnston Square's nearly 500 children, she said, use nearby Ambrose Kennedy Pool in the 1000 block of Ensor St.

"I would certainly hope they reconsider the increase," Ross said. "I think it will have an effect on the kids in Johnston Square and on them being able to use the pool."

With the new admission fees, Nay would have to pay $6 per visit for the day care center's six children, rather than $4.50. The difference is significant after three weekly visits to the pool, Nay said.

"I might use that difference to buy a kiddie pool to give the kids somewhere to cool off," Nay said.

Gloria Green, president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, said people who have large families will be hit hardest by the increased fees.

"I think it's very unfair for the parents who have a low income," Green said. "I think the city should have enough money to support something like this."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was out of town yesterday and could not be reached for comment, said a spokesman for his office.

Harris said the increase will not be rescinded. The pools will open with the new fees on June 19, the first Saturday after school closes, she said.

Some swimmers don't mind the increase and are eager to take that first plunge into the chilly water. Meanwhile, Markita Harris, 11, will stay cool by lying under a fan in her house in the 100 block of N. Bradford St.

"I wish the pool was open today," the Tench Tilghman Elementary School fifth-grader said yesterday after school. "It's been really hot around here."

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