The St. Clair Board of Aldermen on Monday night unanimously voted not to open the community swimming pool this year after it was determined it would be too expensive to update the facility to bring it into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Specifically, it was decided that the city could not afford to either add a powered pool lift to allow handicapped access into the water or reconstruct the stairs that lead into the shallow end of the pool to accomplish the same thing.
“It is difficult to justify operating funds to open a pool which might not last the summer,” City Administrator Rick Childers said during the board’s meeting on Monday night. “The pool has operated since 1964. There was significant and unexplained water loss last year. There are valid cosmetic concerns. ... If the board approves the additional costs to open and operate the pool again this year, there is a potential that repair issues will keep it from operating the full season.”
Changes to the ADA in 2010 required that pools be upgraded with either ramps or chair lifts that move wheelchair users into the water.
Estimated costs to bring the city pool into compliance with the U.S. Department of Justice regulations are in excess of $10,000, Childers said. He added that the city does not have that kind of extra money available this year.
“It will require at least $10,500 to upgrade the pool for ADA compliance and safety issues,” he said. “This exceeds currently available repair funds by $4,500. This would also fully deplete repair funds for the remainder of the season and increase operating losses for the pool.”
Childers said that the pool budget could go even deeper in the red if additional repairs are required during the summer. He also said that if the city decided to go ahead and make the pool handicap-accessible, the installation of the chair or reconstruction of the stairs could take at least nine weeks.
That could delay the opening of the pool to at least July and maybe August, and the facility usually closes for the season before school starts in the middle of that latter month.
Normally, the pool opens the weekend of Memorial Day.
“I cannot in good faith recommend that we do this,” Childers said.
At the end of the discussion Monday night, a motion was made and unanimously approved to not open the pool in 2012.
In the past, there have been other discussions about the future of the pool and whether it should remain open because of its age and because of the fact it requires extensive yearly maintenance to keep it safely operating.
In addition, among other things, last year it was reported there were days when the pool would lose as much as a foot of water.
Most recently, whether or not to open the facility was the topic of debate at the end of last year. The city’s park and recreation board recommended to the aldermen in November that the pool not open this year because “it is getting too expensive to repair and maintain,” board President Beth Lauer said at that time.
However, the board of aldermen went against the park board recommendation in December and decided to give the pool another year of operation.
The thought then was that 2012 would be the last year for the facility.
That was before the compliance issue made its way to the local forefront, even though the DOJ updated its standards for accessible design in 2010.
“Within those standards are requirements for accessibility and ability to use public pools,” Childers said, adding that accessible entry was given “the full force of the law in 2010” with mandatory compliance delayed until this spring.
The city administrator said fines for being in noncompliance could be up to $15,000 per day the pool is open. He also said he does not believe the DOJ would be lenient with the city.
“Their stance would be that we’ve had two years to do this,” Childers said. “They would say ‘Why are you asking us about this now?’ Apparently, there is not much leeway with this.”
Making the St. Clair pool situation even more difficult is the fact that the facility is large enough that two compliant entry points would be required.
Besides the ADA compliance issues, Childers also told the board Monday night that the Missouri Intergovernmental Risk Management Association, or MIRMA, the city’s self-insurance organization, has determined that the pool’s current chlorination system requires the installation of “somewhat extensive” personnel protective devices, which would cost about $1,000.
Finally, the city administrator said there are extensive minor repairs in the works to fix the pool. The price tag on those is another $1,000.
The aldermen and pool manager Karen McGlenn all agreed that the best decision would be not to open the pool this year.
“Back in 2010, I had no knowledge of these new standards. I was not privy to this kind of information,” said McGlenn, who has been pool manager for four years. “I have mixed emotions. The pool does provide a service, and I’d love to see it open. But, if you approve this, I guarantee we will have additional maintenance costs. ... I don’t see the pool surviving another winter. That’s a lot of money to spend for one more season.”
McGlenn’s mom, Barb, who is a Ward 2 alderman, agreed.
“You all know I’m a big proponent of the pool,” she said. “But I can’t justify spending this much money on a 50-year-old pool. It pains me to say that, but I just can’t justify it.”
The pool first opened for business in 1964.
Barb McGlenn was one of the aldermen who fought to keep the facility open late last year after the park board recommended that it not open.
“I hate to see the pool close, but it’s just not feasible to do this,” Ward 2 Alderman Travis Dierker said. “But, I seriously want to look at other options for kids to have something to do during the summer.”
Previous discussions have centered on the city building a recreation center that would house a pool or constructing a spray park.
The rec center idea has been placed on hold because of finances, but Mayor Ron Blum appointed Barb McGlenn to chair a committee that would look into the spray park possibility. Dierker volunteered to assist.
A spray park has been a topic of discussion during previous board meetings. The focus of those talks mainly has been informational.