Deb Barry wasn’t terribly surprised to learn a private company was hemorrhaging money trying to run three city swimming pools.
Deb was Colorado Springs’ aquatics director 22 years until her retirement in 2009. She was responsible for two large indoor facilities and a half dozen outdoor pools.
She knows exactly what it costs to keep pools open.
Still, she was terribly sad.
“I feel sicker than most people in the community about the whole thing,” Deb said.
But she was not surprised. Pools, she said, require tons of TLC — preventive maintenance and repair. And they demand intense staffing. None of it’s cheap.
“It’s difficult to run these pools at a profit,” she said. “You can’t even break event. That’s why they were city pools. They were never designed to be profit-making centers.”
Deb viewed the pools the way Colorado Springs’ founder, Gen. William Jackson Palmer viewed other public amenities: they enhance the culture and beauty of the community.
That’s why he donated more than 2,000 acres for parks to the city and insisted they not be sold.
In other words, she’s not buying the popular political mantra that “government must be run like a business.”
“Our parks are a public service,” Deb said. “They were not designed to make money. City pools are a community service, too. The same for our community centers.”
That message was ignored 18 months ago when the city decided to close all but its Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center and let a private company try to run three pools.
Now, Deb and her colleague, Daisy Chun Rhodes, of the Friends of Aquatics non-profit group, are trying to remind a new City Council of the city’s historic role in enhancing life.
They know the pools are much more than just a place for kids to cool off in summer or to shed a few pounds swimming laps.
“Learning to swim is a life preserver,” Daisy said, repeating the group’s slogan.
Through the Friends’ subsidy of city “Learn to Swin” program, they are dedicated to teaching as many people as possible for the simple reason it saves lives.But there is far more to their mission.
Both have seen the therapeutic value of water for seniors with arthritis, for example, or recovering from a stroke and enrolled in the Aqua Rehab program.
They know what it means for soldiers enrolled in the Wounded Warriors program.It’s why they’ve spent years raising and donating tens of thousands of dollars to pay for poor children and adults to swim at city pools.Aquatics and Fitness Center in Memorial Park
Deb and Daisy and the rest of the Friends of Aquatics board will meet Wednesday to talk about the pool crisis.
They don’t have the $200,000 they estimate it would cost to reopen the Aquatics and Fitness Center in Memorial Park.
And they understand city revenues are tight and business principles do apply to the budget. (Even though City Council found $175,000 to upgrade city tennis courts.)
But Deb has an interesting idea: finish both indoor facilities as they were designed and, in the long run, they will require far less subsidy.
Turns out both Cottonwood Creek and the Memorial Park centers were supposed to have gymnasiums, which generate revenue while requiring far less staff.
Deb said Thornton has a wave pool similar to Cottonwood and it comes close to breaking even thanks to all its gym revenue.
Hmm. Invest money to make money? That sounds like good business to me!
Click here to see a blog I wrote about the Friends of Aquatics fundraising efforts on behalf of city pools.
The city created a little video about Cottonwood Creek Recreation Center than you can view here!
Here’s the Friends of Aquatics latest fundraising effort: