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Dormont hands over management of pool

Matthew Santoni
| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Guests enjoy the Dormont Pool on a hot summer day Saturday, July 13, 2013.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Guests enjoy the Dormont Pool on a hot summer day Saturday, July 13, 2013.

The same company that trains lifeguards at Sandcastle Water Park and Idlewild Park will run the Dormont Pool this summer, marking the first time in 80 years the borough has handed the keys to an outside company.

Dormont Council on Monday awarded Ocoee, Fla.-based Jeff Ellis Management a $99,875 contract to manage the pool for one year, with the intent that the company would save money and bring more professional management to the borough's showpiece facility. That represents a $26,425 savings from last year, when the borough hired lifeguards and a pool manager.

Dormont will retain ownership of the 84-year-old, 1.85-acre pool and will be responsible for its maintenance, though JEM employees will be trained in some maintenance duties. Hours and admission prices will remain the same, and the borough still will run the concessions and the Thomas Lloyd Recreation Center adjacent to the pool.

Attendance at the pool was lower last year because of bad weather, though the borough did not keep track of exact figures, Borough Manager Jeff Naftal said. Revenue from pass and daily admission sales was lower than in 2012.

In 2007, the pool was on the verge of closing because of a backlog of maintenance work and a proposal to redevelop part of its land, but popular support swelled and the current setup was saved.

Naftal noted that having the borough manage the pool led to some standards slipping in the last few years, culminating in a verbal warning from the Allegheny County Health Department last summer for inadequate lifeguard coverage and attentiveness.

“We had the county finding violations, lifeguards sitting around reading and schmoozing,” Naftal said. “I would have brought this to council regardless of whether it would save us money.”

Founder Jeff Ellis said his company had some experience managing large, old pools like Dormont's, though most of their larger facilities were in water parks. As an Allentown native, he said, he grew up working at similar, Works Progress Administration-built pools in the Lehigh Valley.

Ellis said he likely will come to Dormont in April or May to have a hand in setting up management and training for lifeguards, who would be trained to divide the pool into “zones” that each one is responsible for watching.

Councilman John Maggio was the sole dissenter in the 6-1 vote, citing concerns about a 2012 incident in which JEM supervisors in Hallandale Beach, Fla. — where Naftal was an assistant city manager from 1996-2005 — fired several lifeguards after one saved a drowning swimmer outside the area JEM was responsible for protecting.

Ellis said the supervisors acted hastily in firing the guards before having all the facts, and the company offered to rehire them. But the story already had “gone viral” and the company declined to renew its contract with Hallandale Beach when it expired that September.

Maggio and others on council said they were concerned with language in the contract that said the borough could not hire any of JEM's employees for at least a year after the contract ends. They said if the company hires local residents and students as lifeguards and the borough decides not to renew the contract next year, those local lifeguards would be off-limits.

Naftal said that clause was intended to protect the company's investment in training its staff and mainly was focused on the pool manager. Solicitor John Rushford said he could propose contract language that starts the one-year limitation from the employees' hiring date, so they could be rehired by the borough at the start of the next pool season if JEM is dropped.

The borough typically hires 25 to 30 lifeguards per summer depending on attendance.

Naftal said he chose Jeff Ellis Management because he knew of its reputation for managing other pools, beaches and amusement parks, including many Disney water parks, Sandcastle and Idlewild. He sought an estimate from JEM when including potential savings in the 2014 budget. At council's request, he sought qualifications from other companies, but did not receive adequate responses to consider anyone else, he said.

“I'm very comfortable with them,” Naftal said. “If it's good enough for Disney, I'm pretty sure it's going to be good enough for us.”

Pending a legal review and approval by Rushford, the contract begins May 24.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or

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