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Park district rethinks pool approach

The Vashon Park District is planning an assortment of changes at the Vashon Pool this summer in order to bring down the cost of running the Island’s only public pool.

The pool cost the park district about $54,000 to operate last year, and $40,000 in 2010. The park district also used a $75,000 subsidy the county gave the the district when it turned over the pool in 2010.

At a park board meeting last week, the pool’s manager, Scott Bonney, presented a plan to bring the pool’s cost down to about $40,000 in 2012. The presentation came just two weeks after a board meeting where commissioners suggested that if the pool doesn’t become more financially viable this summer, the park district may have to shut it down.

Bonney, who managed the pool last year as well, has expanded duties at the pool this season and was hired on much earlier in the year so he could address the pool’s budget and plan programs.

“The overall goal is not necessarily to make a lot of money in terms of profit this year, but to reverse the trend of the pool losing money and start biting into that deficit,” Bonney said in an interview.

At Tuesday’s meeting Bonney presented a variety of strategies to cut back on costs at the pool while at the same time increase revenue. While the park board approved a budget in January that showed the pool costing the district nearly $50,000, Bonney said he believes he can do even better, shaving about $10,000 off the pool’s budget.

“It’s one thing to get the board of directors to approve the budget. It’s another thing to get the continuing confidence of the community, and I think you do that by beating your budget numbers,” he said.

At the meeting Bonney suggested raising the price of all swimming passes and lessons by 10 percent and raising the cost of renting the pool by about 70 percent, hikes he said were fair considering the cost of running the pool and the prices that other pools charge.

Bonney said that while pool employees would be paid the same wages in 2012, more careful scheduling would cut the cost of staffing the pool. That, in addition to some other cost-saving measures such as buying chlorine in bulk and figuring how to better use the pool’s solar heating system, would ideally cut the pool’s expenses by about $6,000, he said.

“I am confident we can do that,” Bonney said at the meeting.

In addition to raising pool entrance fees, Bonney said that better promoting the pool and adding a slate of innovative new programs this season would raise pool revenue by at least 10 percent more than what the park district projected for 2012.

Bonney and other park district officials are looking into hosting a variety of new programs at the pool, such as diving, scuba diving and water safety classes and special events such as pool parties and drop-in underwater soccer games. They also plan to add a snack stand that would bring in new revenue and to boost rentals — reaching out more to the camps and sports teams that might use the pool in the summer.

Park board commissioners were receptive to the plan, and said they would like to see the district take more advantage of the unique aspects of the pool. For instance, the Vashon Pool is the only competition-size pool on the Island and the only one with starting blocks. It also has a regulation diving board and a slide.

Bonney, who says he is semi-retired from a career as an executive with a telecommunications company, has swum competitively, lifeguarded, managed other pools and started Vashon’s open-water swimming club. He said he is looking forward to having a greater role at the pool this season.

“We have to keep people feeling like we are good stewards of this amazing resource on the Island,” he said. “We do that by trying to get the most out of it and doing it at as low of a cost as we can.”

LuAnn Branch, a park board member who is also an avid swimmer and swim instructor, said the district learned a lot in its first two years managing the pool, and that things are looking up this year with Bonney heading up the program.

“We’re getting somebody that has got a lot of talent professionally in his other field before he came to do this, for a little bit of nothing,” she said. “We couldn’t afford someone like Scott to come in and do what he’s doing.”

Branch added that while Bonney’s plan seemed great, it remained to be seen whether it could be successfully executed. The pool is scheduled to open May 26.

Park commissioners plan to check the pool’s financials throughout the season, and Branch said that the community should take the threat of closing the pool seriously.

“I think that’s a key concern at this point,” she said.

 

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