Indoor aquatic center option prohibitive to replace aging Caledonia pool
Submitted by Jennifer Feely
Campaign planning continues for the $1.7 million-dollar S.O.S. Capital Campaign to build a 9,000- square-feet family aquatic center on the footprint of the current Caledonia pool to serve Caledonia, Brownsville, Eitzen, Freeburg and Houston.
The Steering/Case Statement Task Force has been researching, gathering and writing information for the Case For Support and Frequently Asked questions document over the past two months. Over 150 copies of these documents were recently sent to area residents for feedback.
More than 50 campaign volunteers and the Caledonia City Council would like to share some important facts following survey responses from area citizens that the community should build an indoor swimming center instead of the proposed outdoor family aquatic center or attempt to enclose the outdoor center.
“The City of Caledonia would not be able to operate an indoor swimming facility without spending huge amounts of tax dollars annually,” says Tom Murphy, Caledonia City Council member. “Even if we could raise the $3.75 million to enclose the new aquatic center, we could not responsibly burden the taxpayers with an additional $600,000 to $700,000 to operate the facility,” he says. “The Council is firm that we have a dollar threshold, so we keep all of our projects in place,” adds Murphy.
Pool architects across the Midwest have found that it is financially difficult for communities under a population of 25,000 to support an indoor aquatic facility. On the other hand, outdoor aquatic centers have considerably higher usage and are more cost effective. For example, a similar-sized aquatic center in St. Charles, Minn., had more than 10,000 visitors last year.
According to Aaron Hunter, of USAquatics, “In Caledonia’s case, if we were to enclose the new pool plan, you would need an approximately 25,000-square-feet building. On average, building costs are somewhere around $150 a square foot, so the building itself would cost upwards of $3.75 million plus the pool. Not only is the building expensive, but also what is typically more difficult, is the annual operating costs of an indoor facility. Estimated operating costs for a 25,000 square feet indoor facility would be around $600,000 to $700,000 annually,” stresses Hunter.
Mayor Bob Burns says the evidence is clear that building an indoor pool for the size of the Caledonia area is out of the question when considering how many people really use indoor facilities. According to Burns, “Research throughout the Midwest shows there is 93 percent usage in summer countered with 7 percent usage in winter—which is when some of the large operating expenses are incurred.”
Pool architects also find indoor facilities are not inviting places to play and swim in hot summer months. Most people in the Midwest enjoy and utilize outdoor swimming pools on sunny, warm days when most people prefer to be outside. They also do not provide the entertainment value that an aquatic center affords.
“The City Council does not support building facilities that are not as self-sustaining as possible,” says Jennifer Feely, city clerk administrator. “Many smaller communities are realizing the economic challenges of an indoor pool the hard way. Now, some area communities are trying to determine how to dismantle them.”
Staffing indoor swimming pools can often be a challenge as well. Lifeguards are usually older teens to young adults, and usually are working around high school and college schedules. Staff of park and recreation facilities find it is more difficult to staff indoor facilities, not only in the summer but in the winter as well.
On the other hand, outdoor aquatic centers offer swimming, water play, swimming instruction, adult recreation and competitive options all in the same facility, which is the goal of the new facility. The zero depth entry eliminates the need for and expense of a separate wading pool. Adults often use the lap areas in early morning hours for lap swimming and water aerobics. The zero depth area is used for swimming instruction at the same time. Parents, grandparents, friends and childcare providers can sit near the side of the zero depth play area and still see their children. Parents can be with children of many different ages in one general area. Lifeguards are stationed in designated areas to watch all swimmers effectively.
Separate wading or baby pools are not necessary when there is a zero depth entry. Water quality in the large zero depth entry area is consistently better than in the small wading pools. Wading pools also do not have the benefit of constant supervision by lifeguards.
According to Hunter of USAquatics, “Revenue is significantly higher than indoor facilities because Aquatic Centers are better utilized. Although Aquatic Centers require more staff than traditional swimming pools, the net cost of operation decreases due to the high utilization. Daily admission costs are $4 to $5 and economical annual family passes may be purchased in the $100 range. Even if the proposed center loses an estimated $15,000 annually, it is approximately half of what the City currently loses for the pool and will still offer increased utilization and economic activity as people visit the area to shop.”
For more information, contact Jennifer Feely, at 725-3450.