Newton pool to open in 2012

Newton will open its swimming pool in summer 2012 at a cost of more than $85,250 for one season.

"It is a quality of life issue," said Newton City Council member Mary Bess Lawing. "I think the pool should be open because it meets a certain need for certain people in the area. Everybody does not have the opportunity to go to a private pool. Everybody does not have a pool in their backyard. Ours is a diversified need. We meet a need if we open that pool."

However, other Newton City Council members argue that the city could meet a greater recreation need elsewhere.

"We have got volleyball, indoor soccer and basketball. These programs are bursting at the seams," said Newton Mayor Pro Tem Bill Lutz, who is a member of the city's parks and recreation commission. "There is nowhere to practice — no facilities available. It is like musical chairs to accommodate the people we have. ... Am I wrong to say we could accommodate more?

"Can we serve more children this way, or is the pool the best bet?" he continued. "Can we serve them year-round or three months a year?"

Newton approved a motion by Lawing to open the pool in summer 2012. Council member Robert Abernethy Jr. seconded the motion, and Council member Wayne Dellinger cast the lone dissenting vote.

For most years, about $70,000 is required to operate the city's swimming pool, according to Newton Recreation Director Sandra Waters. In the year ahead, the city must invest an additional $17,400 to make the pool compliant with standards required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Before this summer, the pool must also be caulked at an additional cost of about $2,500, Waters said.

Waters said additional costs are looming in the next two to four years, including the potential to replace the pool's drain system at a cost of $10,000-15,000, and replacement of shower stalls at a cost of about $20,000.

"It costs $70,000 to open the pool each year and in the last census, Newton had about 14,000 people. That is about $5 a person to keep the pool open," Abernethy said. "I don't think $5 a person is that steep to go ahead and give the pool at least one more year."

During summer 2011, the Newton pool posted a total attendance of 1,798. Prior to 2011, the pool was last opened in 2009, when the total attendance reached 1,826. Waters said a lot of the attendance was tied to day cares' summer camps that pay to use the pool.

"You are talking about $70,000 for 800-1,000 people," Dellinger said, arguing that with other Newton recreation programs attracting greater enrollment, the city should "let the city manager see what additional programs they could provide us with for $70,000 against what we get with 1,500 people going to the swimming pool."

Council member Wes Weaver voiced a desire to table the matter to explore other alternatives to investing in the pool, including a splash park.
"This pool is not going to get any cheaper," Lutz said, adding he thinks the pool is a "great thing" for the city to be able to offer. "But in the meantime, knowing that the state and federal government is mandating different drains and all that, we need to look at the numbers, and at options of other team sports."

Lutz said with additional investments, Jacobs Fork Park could be hosting softball tournaments and bringing in new revenue. Other programs he said could also benefit from investments currently made in the city's pool.

"After this year we need to look at other options to serve more children," he said.