Down the drain

Sacramento will close half of its city-run pools in 2011

A sign of the times at Glenn Hall Pool, scheduled for closure in summer 2011.

A sign of the times at Glenn Hall Pool, scheduled for closure in summer 2011.

Photo By williAm leung

This summer will be the last splash for half of Sacramento’s city-run pools. As a part of efforts to close a $43 million budget gap, the city plans to close seven pools next summer—Cabrillo, Glenn Hall, Mangan, Natomas, Oki, Southside and Tahoe—and keep open six—McClatchy, Johnston, George Sim, Pannell Meadowview, Clunie and Doyle.

For those communities facing pool closures next year, particularly on hot summer days, the news is not cool.

“This is devastating for the neighborhood,” Chris Sheen, the head mom for the Tahoe pool swim team in Tahoe Park, said of the decision. “I am not sure what people will do.”

“River Park residents are frustrated the city is broke,” Mike Montgomery, board member of the River Park Neighborhood Association and neighborhood resident for more than 20 years, said of the plans to close the Glenn Hall pool. “The pool is particularly popular with kids and young moms, and it would be irritating for it to sit unused. Already the hours have been reduced to just a couple of hours a day [during the week]. I remember it used to be open all the time.”

Sheen, who has been involved with the Tahoe swim team for 10 years, said the pool is popular with both children and adults. The swim team, for instance, has about 80 members coming from Tahoe, Oki and Southside pools—all of which are scheduled to be closed. Recreational swimming and classes such water aerobics are also popular at Tahoe, she said.

“It’s a big loss for the community, since locals have the ability to walk over to the pool,” Sheen said. “The kids on the swim team may spread out and may not be able to stick together. And it seems counterintuitive with all the efforts to have kids be more active and healthy. The decision is hard to understand.”

Dave Mitchell, operations manager for the Sacramento Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city used geography and attendance as criteria for selecting the pools to keep open.

“Originally, 10 pools were scheduled to be closed,” he said, with just Doyle in the north, Clunie in the Midtown area and Pannell Meadowview in the south set to stay open.

However, the city council eventually allocated another $945,000 to the Parks and Recreation Department’s budget, with about a third of that amount allowing for three more pools to be maintained. The city will also maintain the Cool in the Pool program next year. The program extends pool hours when temperatures exceed 101 degrees.

Sacramento’s pool closures are a part of a wave of municipal pool closings in California cities due to tight budgets. Fresno, for instance, now has four pools open for its roughly 500,000 residents, down from 15 pools two years ago. According to its municipal website, Stockton, home to about 300,000 people, has just one pool open. Even then, the YMCA will run the pool for the city. Some cities, including Fresno and Bakersfield, are also turning to splash pads, essentially small water playgrounds in parks, as cheaper alternatives to city-run pools.

In Sacramento, Mitchell said that some pools set to close could stay open through grassroots fundraising efforts. He said it costs $100,000 to operate a pool for the summer. The city provides $85,000 from its general fund, and $15,000 is generated by revenue from entrance fees, swim lessons and other activities.

“If communities can raise [$15,000] to $20,000 toward costs, the city will try to find other donors from the business community or grants to make up the difference,” Mitchell said. “At the moment, there is general interest from health service providers in helping out.”

River Park is familiar with this routine. In June of this year, the community held a fundraiser that raised $8,000 towards the cost of operating the Glenn Hall pool and paying for lifeguards. According to Montgomery, Steve Cohn, District 3 council member, also contributed $4,300 from his budget to the effort.

Montgomery said the money raised helped keep the pool open this summer through Labor Day, and there should be some leftover funds to help with fundraising for next year—the third year in a row River Park residents will have to take a do-it-yourself approach to maintain the pool.

“It becomes a source of simulated civic pride that we are able to do this,” he said.

In Tahoe Park, Sheen said residents will be resilient. “We will adapt, but it’s sad and a big fat drag.”