For the Vashon Park District, the first year with the community pool under the bubble has been a lesson in how to try new things, contend with unexpected maintenance needs and manage costs.
It has also meant that swimmers and teams are able to take advantage of the facility all year long, something new Aquatics Director Randy Turner said is happening.
What has worked well, said park district executive director Elaine Ott-Rocheford, are the adjustments former Aquatics Director Ann White made at the pool throughout the year based on the input of the public. She highlighted an increase in lap swim hours, including an early morning swim slot that has proved to be popular. Ott-Rocheford added that year-round water aerobics class, First Friday pool parties sponsored by the Vashon Alliance to Reduce Substance Abuse and relaxed swim days for seniors and people with disabilities have also been received positively.
“The ability of kids and anybody to swim year round is just a really wonderful thing about the bubble,” she said.
While the bubble has revitalized the pool in the otherwise dormant months of winter, Ott-Rocheford cautioned that the pool itself has seen better days. In her tenure as executive director, significant investments and renovations to the pool have been required.
In 2017, the main drain in the pool was found to be out of compliance with state law and needed to be reconstructed. In March, the district board approved an emergency fix for the pool water heaters; parts such as the robotic vacuum, which cleans debris from the water, have needed to be replaced amid the completion of planned electrical and mechanical work.
According to Ott-Rocheford, the district’s priority is to keep the pool a safe and operable facility in the years ahead. She noted that while she believes commissioners have no present concerns about the solvency of the pool — she reports the numbers to the board at each meeting — revenue in the summer season, considered to be May through September, came up shorter than anticipated in 2018. Ott-Rocheford said part of the problem may be attributed to a since-discontinued annual pass incentive introduced when the bubble was first installed.
“It was a very reasonable purchase for using the pool for the whole year, and that was a one-time payment. I think it was too good of a deal,” she said. “As as a result, I think it cannibalized revenue that we would otherwise expect from other previous summer seasons. I just don’t think that was a pretty good idea from a revenue standpoint.”
Last year, Ott-Rocheford said, district commissioners allowed $25,000 in overages to the pool budget. They were generated by an earlier staff wage increase plan and more unforeseen expenses unrelated to the bubble, such as urgent general maintenance and bulk purchases of cleaning chemicals. Those costs were absorbed by the pool summer budget, which was originally set at $73,511. The winter cost for the pool came to $54,654 — almost exactly on budget, which was set at $54,280.
Ott-Rocheford said the bubble, which was originally purchased by the Seals team, will remain standing through 2019 as the financial agreement with them was considered to have been met for the year. She noted that providing adequate staffing at the pool has always been a challenge — the search is on for additional lifeguards during the day — but said she is confident in the direction the pool is headed.
“Now that we’ve worked through those kinks, and we have great staff year-round, I think the costs are going to be even less in 2019,” said Ott-Rocheford.
One major recent change in staffing at the pool was the departure of White, who has moved off the island to live near family in the Midwest. Randy Turner, longtime head coach of the Vashon Seals Swim Team, has stepped in to take her place. Turner, a pool lifeguard and former park district employee, said that new membership on the team has swelled in the past year. The 2017 swim year had 46 Seals; after the bubble, membership grew to nearly 70. Also important, he added, older Seals are staying with the club.
“In addition to being able to offer more introductory programming for younger kids with just more pool space — you’re not swimming on top of each other — we’ve been able to retain a lot of the teenagers,” he said. “They enjoy being a part of the team and want to continue swimming.”
At the most recent Seals meet last month, Turner said that nearly two-thirds of the team’s swimmers achieved personal bests because they have been able to train at a higher level throughout the year, mastering time underwater, practicing better diving and starts. As aquatics director, he said he wants to continue helping the team succeed, but that he is committed to making the pool a great place to swim for all. Praising White, Turner said that in the interim, he will manage the pool as she had, but that it is his goal for the pool to be accessible to islanders looking to get in the water.
“I’d like to be able to open Tuesday and Thursday and add some hours [then],” he said. “There’s definitely a demand for it from the regular lap swimmers — we have a very good group of pool lap swimmers that we see every day we’re open. They want to see more opportunities to swim.”
The Vashon Community Pool is open 6 a.m. to noon Monday, Wednesday and Friday, then in the afternoons from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. On Saturday and Sunday, the pool is open from 9 a.m. to noon.