What the Draft Budget Could Mean for Your Neighborhood Pool
The FY 2022 budget has been approved based on the recommendations from CA staff. That includes opening the 15 pools outlined in this article. For the latest information on the approved budget, please refer to this article. Click here to be redirected to the pools main page.
While there are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to COVID-19, the vaccine and how soon we’ll be able to gather again, CA is already preparing for the 2021 summer.
Specifically, our team is looking forward to opening 15 of our neighborhood pools.
Sport & Fitness Director Dan Burns helps us walk through the process of this decision and why CA thinks it’s the best case scenario in the current COVID-19 climate. Aquatics Director Marty Oltmanns also shares his perspective.
What’s set to open and what’s not?
The 15 pools that CA plans to open in the summer are:
- Clemens Crossing (CCP)
- Dickinson (DIP)
- Dorsey Hall (DHP)
- Hawthorn (HAP)
- Hobbit’s Glen (HGP)
- Hopewell Mini WaterPark (HWP)
- Huntington (HUP)
- Kendall Ridge (KRP)
- Longfellow (LFP)
- Phelps Luck (PLP)
- River Hill (RHP)
- Running Brook (RBP)
- Steven’s Forest (SFP)
- Swansfield Mini Water Park (SWP)
- Thunder Hill (THP)
The pools that are not included in the FY 2022 budget are:
- Bryant Woods (BWP)
- Clary’s Forest (CFP)
- Dasher Green (DGP)
- Faulkner Ridge (FRP)
- Jeffers Hill (JHP)
- Locust Park (LPP)
- MacGill’s Common (MCP)
- Talbott Springs (TSP)
It’s important to keep a few things in mind:
Potential COVID-19 restrictions
There’s no way to fully predict what kind of restrictions will still be in effect next summer. State and county-wide COVID-19 guidelines may still be in place, which would make the experience very different for all aquatics programming. Consider this scenario if we’re under 25% or 50% capacity rules:
“We would not be able to host pep rallies or swim meets as they were previously run for the Columbia Neighborhood Swimming League,” Oltmanns said. “Since we wouldn’t be able to have enough people on the grounds at one time, we would need to do virtual meets and record times at practices and compare times between teams for scoring. We would also have to limit practice group sizes and require parents to social distance around the pool.”
Recreational swimming would also be limited based on county and state limitations, requiring advanced registrations, appropriate distancing and mask requirements like we are currently enforcing at indoor pools. These factors will undoubtedly change the way pool goers are able to enjoy the facilities.
The pandemic’s income impact
The pandemic-related shutdown and ongoing restrictions had a serious impact on CA’s budget. Outside of the annual charge, the organization’s biggest sources of revenue – sports and fitness memberships, user fees (like personal training, green fees, tennis court time, lessons, leagues) and community services programming (mainly before-and-after school care) – were hit pretty hard. The projected loss in revenue is estimated to be around $24 million compared to the original FY 2021 budget. The outdoor pools operate at a loss for the organization.
“We hope members and stakeholders understand difficult decisions to close any of our facilities or suspend any of our services are driven by financial constraints and health and safety requirements that are dictated by the pandemic, and not a desire to eliminate valued offerings in this community,” Burns said.
Recruitment for summer employment opportunities presents a new challenge this year for the Aquatics Department . Approximately a month into hiring, CA has received about 145 applications for potential lifeguards and pool personnel. Typically, those positions receive close to 240 applications from people interested in becoming team members over the summer in the same time period. Oltmanns believes that reflects the nervousness that still surrounds COVID-19 despite the enhanced cleaning and safety precautions CA continues to implement across all facilities. Bottom line: You cannot open pools if there’s not enough people to run them.
If you’re interested in applying for a summer position with CA, you can find a full list of open positions here.
CA’s Board of Directors may decide to pursue different options and does have the authority to override CA’s recommendation. The budget approval process takes place through late February. We’ll talk about ways to get involved at the end of this article.
What did CA consider?
Oltmanns, his staff and the Aquatics Advisory Committee (yeah, CA has one of those) considered a number of factors before coming to their recommendation:
- Daily attendance – Simply put, how many people are checking in at each pool each day over the summer? Looking at the hard numbers, Oltmanns found that 15 pools accounted for 83% of the daily check-ins at CA-operated outdoor pools during the 2019 summer season. That means the other eight facilities only accounted for 37,863 of the 226,044 normal pool check ins (not counting mass use programs like Clippers Swim Team, Columbia Neighborhood Swim League, fitness classes and camps), or about 17%.
- Amount of programming – Aqua fitness classes, swim lessons, senior swim and recreational swim programs happening at each pool were all taken into account.
- Columbia Neighborhood Swim League (CNSL) – Understanding the value of CNSL to this community, we took this type of usage under careful consideration when making these decisions.
- Number of swim lanes – More swim lanes = more space for swimmers. And some of the pools do not have the capacity to hold meets, which was also considered.
- ADA accessibility – We want to ensure the pools that remain open are accessible to as many people as possible.
- Number of pools in each village – While we understand families might have their favorite spot, we did consider which neighbors have other options close by.
Why is CA trying to close my pool?
Whether it’s the closest to home, the one with your favorite lane or the least crowded, we know everyone has a favorite neighborhood pool. That said, CA’s team carefully considered the pools that are not included in FY 2022’s operating budget.
Here’s a pool-by-pool breakdown of the reasoning:
- Bryant Woods (BWP) – Bryant Woods was built back in 1967. It only has 6 lanes that are non-standard size, meaning they’re too short to be used for swim meets. Nearby Faulkner Ridge (about a mile away) is more ideal for swim meets and has an ADA-compliant wading pool.
- Clary’s Forest (CFP) – Clary’s Forest is the only pool in Hickory Ridge with 6 lanes. It also sits adjacent to houses, and as a result of the noise complaints we get from the neighbors every summer, we’re prevented from opening the pool for early morning programming. Hawthorn (1.3 miles away) is an ADA-compliant location that hosts swim lessons. Clemens Crossing is used for meets as well as the Columbia Association Kids Triathlon and the Columbia Association Triathlon.
- Dasher Green (DGP) – The village of Owen Brown has two pools, Dasher Green and Hopewell. Both are eight lane pools. However, Hopewell (about two miles away) is one of the most well-used CA-operated locations and has the ability to host the CNSL team for one summer.
- Faulkner Ridge (FRP) – After hearing some concerns from the community, staff is recommending that Faulkner Ridge close and Running Brook (1.8 miles away) remain open. Running Brook is more geographically accessible to both Town Center and Wilde Lake residents and can fulfill the same programming needs.
- Jeffers Hill (JHP) – Long Reach is the only village with four pools. Kendall Ridge (about two miles away) is an ADA-compliant location. Phelps Luck (1.7 miles away) is needed to host the All City Swim Meet. Additionally, both Kendall Ridge and Phelps Luck have higher attendance than Jeffers Hill and Locust Park.
- Locust Park (LPP) – Again, Long Reach is home to four neighborhood pools. Kendall Ridge (1.7 miles away) is an ADA-compliant location. Phelps Luck (little over a mile away) is needed to host the All City Swim Meet. Additionally, both Kendall Ridge and Phelps Luck have higher attendance than Jeffers Hill and Locust Park.
- MacGill’s Common (MCP) – Kings Contrivance has two other pools in the village, Huntington and Dickinson. Huntington (less than two miles away) has eight lanes, which means it can host a meet every weekend for the two CNSL teams in the village. CA is also working to host the Autism program at Huntington for 2021. Dickinson (1.3 miles away) has the highest attendance in the village.
- Talbott Springs (TSP) – Talbott Springs has the second lowest attendance. Oakland Mills also has Thunder Hill, which has higher attendance and is geographically furthest from other pools in the area. Steven’s Forest (about a mile away) is an ADA-compliant location and a hub for aqua fitness and morning lap swimming.
“At this point in time, this decision only applies to FY 2022,” Burns said. “However, moving forward, CA will continue to evaluate any and all options that best utilize the organization’s resources in ways that best add to the quality of life in the Columbia community.”
What else is changing?
Another financially-minded move Burns and his team are recommending involves the nine snack bars CA runs out of outdoor pool facilities. When calculating staff into the cost, the snack bars currently lose about $40,000 each year. That loss is expected to grow annually as minimum wage increases every year through 2025 to $15 an hour.
For those families who are disappointed over the thought of missing out on the occasional poolside popsicle, we have something in the works.
“The Aquatics Division is working with Open Space to add a food truck parking space to every pool,” Oltmanns said. “We’re also working to ease restrictions on food trucks and ice cream trucks to come onto CA property. Additionally, members are always able to bring in their own food or get their favorite food delivered to the pools.”
Extended lap season
Another change you could see in 2021 is scaling back what CA refers to as the extended lap season. That means most pools will operate from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. Staffing and running the spring and fall lap swimming costs CA approximately $30,000 a year and puts an additional burden on resources. In the spring, it forces a crunch with paperwork and training to ensure lifeguards are set up in time for the opening week. A majority of lifeguards return to school ahead of the fall sessions.
“This causes a guard shortage across the entire system in both indoor and outdoor pools. Full time supervisors are often working overtime to keep all shifts filled. Eliminating outdoor aquatic activities in the fall will also allow CA to focus our personnel and resources on indoor fall programming,” Oltmanns said.
While a number of swimmers do utilize the extended season outdoor opportunities, CA does provide a number of indoor options throughout the off-season.
How do I voice my opinion on this proposal?
The Board will meet periodically from now through late February to discuss FY 2022 budget issues, and all of them are open to the public. That includes the following work sessions and meetings:
- Thursday, January 14 – Work session
- Thursday, January 28 – Regular meeting followed by a work session
- Thursday, February 11 – Work session
- Thursday, February 18 – Work session
- Thursday, February 25 – Board discussion and vote on the FY22 Budget
You can also participate and stay informed in the following ways:
- Review meeting agendas and documents on our Board of Directors page.
- Watch the discussions and decisions in real time by subscribing to our CA Live Stream YouTube page.
- Get involved with Resident Speakout. You can submit something in writing or speak on the virtual platform.
- CA periodically publishes Board of Directors-related articles on our website. These are also included in newsletters and on social media.
- Send an email to the Board of Directors.