Wauseon’s community pool closed its doors nearly three weeks ago, and results show a relatively successful season despite the coronavirus and the restrictions it placed on the facility.
Not a single case of COVID-19 can be attributed to attendance at the pool, said Marissa Dopp, director of nursing at the Fulton County Health Department. She said the department has no record of any coronavirus-related illnesses originating from the venue.
Keith Torbet, the city’s public service director, said a couple of pool staff members were quarantined after possible exposure, but nothing came of it. “I think it’s pretty much anywhere you go in any business there are going to be one or two that are possibly going to test positive or may have been exposed,” he said. “Just take the extra precautions and go with it.”
The pool and facility never had reason to close down or undergo a deep clean, Torbet said. He said he and pool management kept in contact with the county health department throughout the season.
Limiting attendance under state restrictions did take a bite from the seasonal revenue, however.
“We never truly make money on the pool, and with the fact that we were restricted on the number of people we could have did not help matters. We still have the same expenses but with less people,” Torbet said.
Typical expenses each season include lifeguards, pool chemicals, electricity, water, and concessions. All told, operational costs reach about $100,000 annually including off-season electricity and maintenance.
After closure on Aug. 22 this year, maintenance crews found several chips on the pool’s slides that will be repaired this week. They’ll also make minor repairs in the bathhouse, and likely will have to repaint competition lines on the pool’s bottom that are often damaged by winter weather conditions. The total cost will be between $5,000 and $10,000, paid from the city’s pool fund.
Torbet said the current pool levy covers lots of expenses, but when additional pool toys were added to the original project, “that took a good chunk of the operating expenses. Fortunately, we had some generous donors donate some of the stuff, which saved us.”
A five-year pool levy renewal with a reduction from 2.6 mills to 2.0 mills is scheduled for the Nov. 3 ballot. The decrease in the levy’s annual revenue from about $310,000 to an estimated $215,000 would eliminate millage that was necessary to construct the pool while retaining enough revenue for its continued upkeep and maintenance. The reduction would begin January of 2021.
Torbet said he’d like to retain the daily $3 fee; if the renewal levy fails, “we’ll have to look at the situation,” he said. “I would like to see it be neutral — not necessarily making the city money but not losing any money. If we wanted to make money on the pool we would have to charge a $10 daily admission.”
Proceeds from concessions go back into that operation.
Still, the pool benefited from a number of private parties held over the season, and from the closures of other community pools around northwest Ohio due to COVID-19. That brought in people from as far as Bowling Green and other areas of Wood County for a cool dip.
And that influx of outside patrons created the only major problem the pool experienced. Notices of scheduled and unexpected closures and down times occurring during the season were placed on county social media sites but not at the pool facility, leaving unknowing outside visitors to face locked doors.
“We didn’t do a really good job of getting that out,” Torbet said. “When you have people coming from Bowling Green, Toledo, Napoleon, Archbold — those people didn’t necessarily know about it. We need to do a better job of communicating that.”
Otherwise, only minor problems arose, such as having to remind visitors about wearing masks and social distancing when they lounged in the pool area. “But people were really good about it,” Torbet said. “I think, for the most part, they were just glad they had something to do, and they knew if they didn’t cooperate we had no choice but to close.”
What actually concerned Torbet more was the possibility of “the powers that be and the state government saying, ‘No, we have to close this down. I had both my fingers crossed that (we) were going to be able to keep it open the whole season.”
Wauseon Mayor Kathy Huner considers the pool season a success, despite the limitations set by COVID-19.
“We didn’t get to run the pool to the maximum capacity, but in the process not only were we able to open it up to the citizens but to communities that weren’t able to open their pools up to the public,” she said. “We didn’t have any cases…and the kids had someplace to go, and to me that was a huge success they were able to go someplace and be kids. Everything else was shut down for our youth. The one thing we were able to do is make it work for our youth at the pool.”
Should the pool renewal levy pass it may be possible to expand the concession stand and operate under a standard food service license rather than temporary licenses each year, Torbet said. That would allow for an expanded menu and service to visitors of Reighard Park, which abuts the pool.
But other than a possible amenity added to the pool’s toddler section, Torbet doesn’t think the pool area itself can expand further.
“I don’t know if we have the actual infrastructure to do much more than what we’ve got there,” he said.
He said the Astro Pool Company of Mansfield, Ohio, will likely inspect the pool before next season’s opening, and at that time there may be discussions on whether additional options are possible.
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.