Pool profits trickle away with high upkeep costs
In most municipalities, public pools are taking a dip into taxpayers' wallets.
Despite their popularity, municipal pools can end up costing more money than they make.
Municipal officials say the high cost of insurance coupled with expensive repairs keeps many pools swimming in red ink.
In Monroeville, the community pool in Bel-Aire Park is facing an uncertain future.
Built in 1971, the pool has structural problems that could require substantial repairs.
Monroeville officials fear the pool may be nearing the end of its life span. Debate is under way to decide if the pool should be repaired or replaced.
Monroeville officials get creative when it comes to keeping the pool's finances afloat.
Private pool parties and teen movie nights boost revenue, said Tara Ficcaglia, Monroeville recreation program director.
"The pool gives the community an everyday outlet for recreation that is fairly inexpensive," Ficcaglia said.
Admission to the pool is $3 for a resident adult. Annual memberships cost $65 for an adult and $125 for a family. Prices are double for nonresidents.
Even with healthy attendance, the cost of running a pool can drown small boroughs such as Avalon.
While other communities prepare to open their pools this weekend, the gates remain locked at the Avalon pool.
The pool was shut down for the summer so that officials can figure out if there is enough money to fix the aging facility.
The 70-year-old facility along New Brighton Road has been a staple of summer recreation for generations of Avalon families.
Rebuilt in 1968, cracks in the pipes caused the pool to leak about 27,000 gallons a day last summer. The 300,000-gallon pool lost more than 3 million gallons last year, said councilman Ed Repp.
Avalon officials have earmarked $20,000 to assess the damage.
Officials fear the pool could be closed for more than one summer if the damage is too extensive.
"We did not want to take this pool out of service. This pool is something we want to keep," Repp said. "We are a small borough and the more parks and recreation we can offer, the more we can attract people and keep them here."
Repp said officials are committed to repairing or rebuilding the pool, although most years the pool was a losing proposition.
"Most of the time, the pool lost money," Repp said. "It was losing enough that it was getting to the point that it got worse and worse and council had to do something about it."
The cost of running a municipal pool can be daunting for small communities such as Avalon and Etna.
Last year, the Etna pool cost $90,000 to run, but generated only $42,000 in revenue. The borough, which has fewer than 4,000 residents, absorbed the $48,000 difference.
The borough spent an additional $60,000 in the past five years to repair the 31-year-old facility.
Despite the high price tag, Etna officials plan to keep the pool a priority.
"It's such an asset," said Mary Ellen Ramage, Etna manager. "It's a drawing card for young families looking to move into the area."
Built in 1929, the 1.5 million gallon Dormont pool is the largest municipal pool in Pennsylvania. Despite its high profile along Banksville Road, the pool fails to break even, said John Marquart, borough manager.
Each year, the borough kicks in roughly $20,000 to $30,000 to keep the pool up and running. This year's operating budget is $187,000, Marquart said.
Dormont is wrapping up a $20,000 study to decide what to do with the pool along Banksville Road. Options range from a $600,000 renovation to a $6 million rebuild.
"It's a pool that is going to be around for a while," Marquart said. "It has historical and sentimental value to the community."
In Moon Township, officials and residents are weighing the prospect of building a pool as part of a proposed community center.
A survey of more than 600 residents showed strong support for a pool, said Dana Kasler, Moon parks and recreation program director.
"It's shown there is a need," Kasler said. "We have a lack of aquatic facilities in the Pittsburgh area in general and in Moon Township in particular."
Peters Township officials rejected the idea of building a pool last year because of the short season and high cost of construction.
In Brentwood, the community pool has been a summer haven since 1928.
Refurbished in 1972, repairs to the aging facility are mounting, said Tom Kammermeier, Brentwood public works superintendent.
"It's coming upon the age when there is going to have to be some major consideration to renovation," Kammermeier said.
On average, the Brentwood pool attracts about 300 people daily, said Venie Nicola, borough secretary.
"The pool is a courtesy and a convenience to our residents," Nicola said. "As a rule, it operates at a loss. If we would close it, we certainly would hear about it."
The sprawling pool in Cranberry Community Park is one of a relative few that turn a profit.
Built in 1997 for just under $1 million, the pool generates more than enough money to cover expenses.
The pool is expected to take in more than $400,000 this summer. Most of that money will go to personnel, maintenance, and utility costs.
Any profit will be poured into capital improvements. The township spent $300,000 on improvements in 2000.
More than 40,000 people are expected to pack into the Cranberry pool this summer. The high volume is enough to keep the pool running in the black.
"We're open hopefully 100 days in the summer," Diehl said. "There will be rain days and other things that cut into business."
Boyce Park Wave Pool
Monroeville Community Pool at Bel Aire Park