Few options for keeping cool

Two public pools struggle to stay open while others have been forced to close


If you were brought up short by last week's heat wave and decided belatedly that you've just got to cool off by soaking in a swimming pool the rest of the summer, your last-minute choices in Carroll County are limited.

While many suburbanites flock to private clubs, backyard pools or community pools with long waiting lists, there are only two public pools left in the county - Westminster's municipal pool and one just outside of Lineboro near the Pennsylvania line that is run by the Lineboro-Manchester Lions Club.

Once common in many urban neighborhoods, public municipal pools have been on the wane for years, buffeted by changing lifestyles and looming liability concerns. But for almost 30 years now, the Westminster Municipal Pool in the Greens of Westminster has drawn residents in search of community and a cheap way to entertain their kids during the summer months.

Julie Campbell and her sons Jurod, 9, and Jahmere, 7, got a family membership this summer, after paying daily fees for the past four years. At $35 a session, the boys are taking swimming lessons and eventually hope to join the swim team.

"It gives them a chance to run into their buddies when they're not in school," said Campbell, 28, a nurse at Carroll Hospital Center. "You get to meet your neighbors and become friends, like a little family."

Buoyed by revenue from a competitive swim team and popular swimming lessons, the Westminster Municipal Pool is the county's only government-funded one.

The nonprofit Lineboro-Manchester Lions Club Pool almost had to shut its doors this year. Instead, volunteers held fundraisers and took on heavy debt to raise the $100,000 needed to repair the leaky and neglected 49-year-old pool. Now the 50th anniversary celebration is in sight.

"People are shocked we got the pool open," said Joe Bach, the pool committee chairman. "We almost put a whole new pool in. The future looks great - we've just got to pay off our debt."

In cities, municipal pools first started declining because of white flight during the desegregation movement of the 1950s, according to Jeff Wiltse, a history professor at the University of Montana and author of Contested Waters: A History of Swimming Pools in America.

The city of Baltimore was no exception. When Baltimore municipal pools integrated, white attendance dropped 95 percent, while blacks flocked to the facilities, Wiltse said.

Yet, compared with Carroll County, Baltimore's pools are still thriving. The city maintains five large park pools, 13 "walk to" neighborhood pools and 21 tot wading pools, plus three indoor pools. Admission is $1 a visit and $10 a month at the smaller pools, and $1.50 a visit or $25 for the season at the park pools.

Westminster's pool is relatively pricey by comparison. The pool charges $5 a visit for nonmembers, $3 for children ages 11 or younger and adults ages 56 and older.

Seasonal memberships range from $108 for individual city residents to $180 for families, while county residents pay $126 individually and $240 for the family. Still, it's by far the cheapest option in the county.

Expensive liability insurance and capital costs have also forced the closure of public pools, Wiltse said.

"Over the last 30 to 40 years, the proliferation of private residential pools represent a real retreat from public life," he said in a phone interview from New Jersey. "Americans, over the last generation or two, have become less willing than previous generations to fund public recreation."

With a dearth of capital funds, other community pools in the county have dried up. Town officials had Hampstead's small, tennis racket-shaped pool closed and filled in last summer.

Officials closed Taneytown's ailing 40-year-old structure three years ago. A group of residents has raised $7,800 to reopen it, but that's nowhere near the estimated $2.3 million price tag for a new pool.

"We don't have enough big corporations to give donations," Mayor W. Robert Flickinger said. "I'm not against the pool. But maybe something we could use 12 months out of the year, by putting a capsule on it. That might cost $3 million, but it would be worth it."

In mid-July, the Taneytown City Council decided to hire a consultant to gauge public interest.

In Sykesville, a hybrid model has been proposed, in which the town would sell land to a private company to build and operate the pool.

"The town is not in the business of running pools," said Town Manager Matthew H. Candland. "It's in the best interest of our citizens to have it operated by a business that specializes in that field."

The soonest the community pool would open is the summer of 2008, a year later than anticipated, Candland said. A decent pool should cost at least $1 million to build, he said.

Meanwhile, the Westminster Municipal Pool isn't exactly awash with funds. The city budgeted about $120,000 to fix a persistent leak and rip up and rebuild the surrounding patio, but construction costs continue to rise, said Ronald J. Schroers, administrator of parks and recreation.

"We might not have enough money," Schroers said. "Maybe our public works department can haul a lot of the heavy concrete. The mayor and council could tell us to hold off another season."

Keeping the fees down is essential to Schroers and the pool's 800-plus members, such as Judy Egerton and her son, Trevor Rill, 13.

"I love the swim team, the people," said Egerton, who teaches math at a high school in Baltimore County. "My son loves the pool. He can bring his friends here for a few dollars. It fills his summer."


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.