County avoids a leap into pools

No public facilities here, and private clubs are busy

July 27, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Amanda Koss has grown accustomed to almost daily phone calls from people seeking a public swimming pool in Harford County.

They ask where they can go if they just want to swim outdoors for the day with their family.

She tells them Pennsylvania.

"At least three or four times a week, more when it's really hot outside, people call me looking for public swimming pools," said Koss, who has managed the private North Harford Swim Club in Jarrettsville the past three years. "I tell them the closest one that I know is Shanbergers Pool in Fawn Grove."

The telephone conversation is becoming more frequent at local swim clubs as new people move to Harford County.

Unlike many counties in the state, Harford has no outdoor public swimming pools.

Public pools are vulnerable to lawsuits, and are expensive to operate, said Joe Pfaff, director of the county's parks and recreation.

"There are an awful lot of pools managed by the homeowners' associations and swimming clubs in the county," Pfaff said. "Previous county administrators decided to let the private entrepreneurs take on the responsibility. There are a lot of outlets for swimming, so we have chosen not to get into it."

The swim clubs say they are working to meet the growing demand. Some clubs have expanded, while others have renovated or improved their facilities. Many are offering incentives and extra activities to keep members coming back.

Despite reports in other Maryland locations of swim clubs failing because of dwindling membership and lack of funds to pay for repairs, some Harford County clubs have waiting lists, said Raymond Brown, manager of the Fallston Swim Club.

During the last three years, the entire infrastructure of the Fallston Swim Club has been replaced, he said. The 38-year-old club this year includes new pool decks, pool surfaces and plumbing; a concession deck and a pavilion, he said.

With four swimming pools and a diving well, the Fallston Swim Club has 725 members and a waiting list of 171 families, he said.

Although the pool has several costs to join - $75 application fee, $75 registration fee, annual dues of $500 for a family or $350 for individual membership, and a one-time $550 refundable stock fee - membership is coveted.

"The people on our waiting list pay $75 to get on the list," Brown said. "Everyone currently on the list will be able to join the club by the 2010 swimming season."

Despite the growing list, there are no plans to increase the membership cap, he said.

"We don't have a lot of problems with overcrowding now," Brown said. "We have about five days a year when the pool is very crowded, the rest of the year, it is just full. We want to keep it that way for our members."

Another popular swimming spot is the Fountain Green Swim Club on Fountain Green Road in Bel Air. The 500-member club has a 100-person, two-year waiting list for membership that costs $400 per family a season, said Brian King, who has been an assistant manager at the 35-year-old club for the past three years.

The facility includes a 25-meter, eight-lane swimming pool.

"Our busiest day of the year is the Fourth of July," King said. "That's one day that we really get slammed."

To alleviate crowding, other activities, including beach volleyball, tennis and basketball, are available at the club, which put in a new pool about 10 years ago. On really hot days, there are times when the pool gets so crowded, it's nearly impossible to swim laps, King said.

Across the county at the 35-year-old North Harford Swim Club, membership is at capacity with about 320 members, Koss said

The cost to join the club the first year includes a $400 initiation fee and $495 annual dues. Each year after that, members pay the annual dues. The pool gets as many as 500 people on busy days, such as the Fourth of July, she said. To give adults access to the pool, the club has an adult-only swim for 15 minutes each hour.

This summer, the club debuted an 800-foot-long addition to the formerly L-shaped swimming pool. Other improvements include a wading pool with a beach access and fountains.

"As the town of Jarrettsville has grown in size, we have grown with it," Koss said.

Between the smaller membership and the improvements, overcrowding at the pool isn't the norm, said Jackie Remige, who has been a member since the club opened in 1973.

"There aren't many days when the pool is super-crowded," said Remige, an Abingdon Elementary School teacher. "Crowding has never been an issue for us. We always have a place to sit, and we made social friends here early on that we still have."

Beverley Merkle, who also joined the club when it opened, agreed. She moved to Harford County from Pennsylvania and found the club a great place to be, she said.

"When I come to this pool, I don't have to be worried about getting snapped or kicked in the pool," Merkle said. "But I have been to other pools in the county that are so congested, it's hard to even get in the pool. I come to the pool with my friends and we sit at our table, Table 5 every single time, it's always available. This pool is a great place to come with your children."

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