Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Swimming pools cut from city funding

By Jon Gambrell
Enquirer contributor

Sunset Pool, at 201 Bellemonte St., is a 15,632-square-foot pool. Filled with 535,000 gallons of water, the pool also has a 491-square-foot wading pool for children. Sunset saw 11,565 visitors last year. Grossing $21,563 for the city through admissions and the concession stand, the city had to pay about $75,732 in expenses, subsidizing 78 percent of the pool's costs.

Douglass Pool, at 1825 Minnesota St., is a 4,000-square-foot pool. Filled with 177,631 gallons of water, the pool also has a 480-square-foot wading pool for children. Douglass had 2,928 visitors last year. Grossing $3,238 through admissions and the concession stand, the city had to pay about $39,200 to run the facility, roughly 92 percent of all costs.

MIDDLETOWN - Now filled with dead leaves and stagnant water, the city's two pools are awaiting a summer that may never come after budget cuts this week.

The city of Middletown, facing a $4.7 million deficit in next year's budget, decided to cut Douglass and Sunset pools' funding.

The two pools, though fixtures for generations of Middletown families, represented big financial drains for the city. Douglass Pool, which only had 2,928 visitors last year, has cost the city more than $450,000 since 1995.

"It's like buying an older house," recreation administrator Abby Ison said. "It is a money pit."

Ison said the two pools, which opened before World War II, suffered from "antiquated equipment" such as twice-rebuilt motors that should be replaced, as well as electrical and plumbing problems.

Across the street from Douglass Pool at the Middletown Community Center, 24-year-old assistant recreation specialist Kevin Aldridge said he understood the city faced a budget crisis. But he had his doubts.

"Most kids look forward to swimming," Aldridge said. "Now what are they going to do? They can't afford or get transportation to any water parks."

The pool, at the south end of Middletown, is in a predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhood dotted with public housing. While the park surrounding the pool has a new bike path and other amenities, Aldridge said, closing the pool would take away one of the few activities the neighborhood had.

"We take things for granted when something's there," he said. "Yes, the attendance wasn't as high, and the kids assumed it would be there. Now, problems could arise."

From her home looking down at Sunset Pool, Lea Thoman said neighborhood pride should push the community into donating time, material and money to save Middletown's two pools.

There is a chance one pool might be saved; the recreation department is in talks with Cincinnati Pool Management about privatizing Sunset Pool. While the pool could open this coming summer, Ison said admission prices would probably be raised.


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