Pools of unpredictability

Money: Aging facilities, fewer memberships prompt closure of two town facilities, while a few benefit from good weather and others' bad luck.

August 21, 2005|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

While Hampstead's municipal swimming pool has been reduced to mounds of dirt and busted concrete and Taneytown's has remained closed for another season, pool attendance jumped this summer in Manchester and Westminster.

And in Sykesville, officials are looking forward to the 2007 opening of a municipal pool. A 2003 referendum showed about 55 percent of town residents favored the pool project, estimated to cost $500,000.

The town will lease the pool site, below market rates, to a developer willing to build and manage the pool.

"The town does not want to own or run the pool," said Sykesville Town Manager Matthew Candland. "Municipalities should not be in the pool business. The operation is better suited to the private sector. All we want to do is help it along in more of a partnership idea."

Attendance and memberships at municipal pools, long considered a recreational refuge for families during the hot months, have dwindled in the past few years because of chilly spring weather and rainy summers. Some officials believe more residents are building their own pools.

Taneytown began surveying residents this month about possible construction of a new municipal pool. Ballpark estimates are $750,000 to $1 million for an Olympic-size pool and other buildings.

The town's pool closed in mid-August 2003 because of problems with the management company. Then, in January 2004, a Carroll County inspector condemned it. The pool had been supported by memberships and financial help from the city.

Taneytown Mayor W. Robert Flickinger said at the time that the pool and bath house, built in 1965, needed hundreds of thousands of dollars in repairs that the city could not afford.

Soon after the announcement last year that the Taneytown pool it would not reopen, the Hampstead Town Council decided against spending about $150,000 for essential repairs to a foundation wall, said Town Manager Ken Decker.

Membership had dwindled to about 100 families and a save-the-pool committee failed to coalesce.

Taneytown has a citizens' committee, but it has raised only about $7,000. Flickinger noted two mid-spring bids, at about $418,00 and $462,000, to demolish the structure and build a pool.

In Hampstead, talk about a possible splash park fizzled and the town began demolishing the pool on Monday. There have been some complaints, Decker said. The site in the 900 block of Sugar Maple St. in Kimberly Village will become a small park.

"We spent money like the federal government on the pool," Decker said. "At the end of the day, we had spent as much money as we felt we could on the thing. We're out of the pool business, for now."

In neighboring Manchester, the community pool is back in the black, said Henry J. Hirsch, former pool committee chairman for the Lineboro--Manchester Lions Club.

"I think we definitely got people from Hampstead; it might even be half our clientele," he said. "A year like this really helps us to continue on."

Before the pool opened in Manchester for 2004, Hirsch had said he feared it might have to close by midsummer.

The Lions operate the 47-year-old community pool as a nonprofit venture, he said, and the club had to borrow about $17,000 for operating expenses after 2003 ended as the worst season in recent memory.

This summer has been a different story.

"We've had a great year, probably a record year," he said last week. With memberships and daily attendance up, "We're probably looking at a 25 to 30 percent increase over last year."

At the Westminster pool, family memberships increased to 171, compared with 90 last year, said Ronald J. Schroers, administrator of parks and recreation. Gate fees also are up this year.

"We've had a decent year from an operating standpoint, absolutely," he said. "However, I relate that to weather. Certainly last year was a horrible weather year and it rained an awful lot."

The 325-person capacity pool on Royer Road in the Greens of Westminster dates from the late 1970s and needs new water lines to filter the pool, he said.

Schroers said he didn't know whether the pool closings in Hampstead and Taneytown increased attendance in Westminster, but he said the admission fees need to be increased.

"A lot of what supports us is the swim team," he said. "We have more than 100 kids, and the last three years we won our division."

In Manchester, this summer's turnout has allowed the club to pay off about half of its debt and make repairs, Hirsch said.

The site on Victory Street has three pools: one 10 feet deep, a lap pool and a baby pool. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 2 to 12 and free for those younger than 2, he said. It holds about 450 swimmers.

"We were worried a couple years ago. This year, with the weather, has been fantastic," Hirsch said.

"A lot was the weather, but word also started to get out. I think when Hampstead closed, and Taneytown, it let the community know we're a community pool and not a private pool. We have a lot of new people, a lot of new faces."

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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