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A dip in the public pool

The Baltimore Sun

Irvin Delauter swished a rubber ball through a basketball hoop that was sitting on the edge of the Westminster Municipal pool.

In the kiddie pool, Kyle Clayton, 7, dropped his toy shark into the water and swam with it, while 2-year-old Michelle May made circles in the water with her fingertips.

The children were cooling off on a recent afternoon in the public pool -- the only government-funded one remaining in the county, said Ron Schroers, Westminster's director of recreation and parks.

The pool opened last month to droves of people from all over the county after the city spent $119,000 to complete improvements during the spring. The renovations included the installation of new pipes and a new concrete deck.

"The Westminster pool is self-sustaining," Schroers said. "We're fortunate because the pool makes enough in membership and daily pool fees to cover the annual operating and maintenance costs of about $35,000," he said. "And each year we're seeing more people at the pool."

However, other municipal pools in the county haven't been so fortunate, he said.

"A lot of pools have aged and required a lot of money to improve enough to even open," he said. "The pools were unable to make enough to meet code, cover operating expenses and do capital improvements."

Such was the case with the pool in Taneytown, said City Manager James Schumacher. Their pool closed after the 2004 season due to decay caused from aging, and a lack of membership, he said.

The pool got to the point where it just wasn't safe anymore, Schumacher said.

"The pool was completely substandard," he said. "The pipes were leaking, and the facility itself was aging. A lot of the changing rooms needed to be replaced."

The bigger problem was that the operating and maintenance costs were not being met, he said.

So after the 2004 season, the pool was closed.

The Taneytown city council is debating whether to build a new pool, Schumacher said. An architect was hired, a pool committee was formed, and a design was created for a $1.3 million state-of-the-art facility, he said.

"The new design includes a Splash park for the kids, a snack shop and a handicap entrance for handicap people," Schumacher said.

However, the town of approximately 6,800 doesn't have the money to build it, he said.

"Even if we get the money for a pool, can pool memberships and fees cover the repayment of a bond and the operating costs after that?" he said. "And will we be able to find enough qualified staff to help run the pool? These are important questions that need to be answered before a decision can be made."

They are looking into private funding, he said.

"We need a foundation that wants to do something to help youth," he said. "A pool is a positive thing. We would like to rebuild, but we want to do it right. And if we don't get outside help on building costs, I don't think it's ever going to happen."

In Westminster, the 174,000-gallon Olympic-size pool was originally owned by the homeowner's association that deeded the pool to the city in the 1970s, Schroers said. Over time, like other public pools, it slowly begun to deteriorate.

For starters, the pool had a leak that was getting progressively worse, the concrete deck was cracking, and mildew formed in the standing water on the deck, making certain areas slippery, said Jerry Georgiana, pool manager.

"The leak was so bad that the water was running constantly," Georgiana said. "The water settled next to the pool and by midday we had to put up orange cones so kids didn't slip and get hurt."

The area was terrible before the repairs were made, said Rebecca Mann, 36, of Westminster, who brings her 9-year-old daughter, Jordan, to the pool.

"The kids were constantly falling on the wet concrete because of the puddles," she said. "They didn't even have to be running, it was that slippery. The pool manager would come out with a broom and sweep the water away, but he couldn't keep all the water off."

However, the water and cracked deck weren't enough to drive her family away in past years, she said.

Although the Mann family contemplated a backyard pool, they decided against it because of the social benefits of using the municipal one.

"My daughter swims like a fish and whenever we come to the pool, one of her friends is always here," Mann said. "It is a great place to be social. I didn't want to take her away from that. And the moms can socialize as well. We decided to work around it. The pool was never gross, it was just the area around it."

Amy Aldrich, who travels to the pool from New Windsor about 20 times a year with her sons Hayden, 4, and Logan, 2, would like to see a pool built closer to home, she said.

"We definitely need a pool in New Windsor," she said. "This pool gets really crowded."

Jennifer Owens, 36, a resident of the Greens Apartments that are located next door to the pool, agreed.

Last week when the temperatures were in the 90s, there weren't any parking spots in the lot, she said.

"Even though the pool didn't look like it was up to par, like most pools do, if fills up," Owens said.

The pool has about 250 memberships, said Travis Love, the assistant pool manager.

"A lot of our members come back year after year," Love said. "And we have a growing number of people coming to the pool each year."

However, the increase in people using the pool is predominantly swimmers paying daily gate fees, rather than members, Schroers said.

"Most people are gravitating towards the daily gate fees," he said. "This is due in part to the economy and also the weather. One bad weather season can really hurt us."

Although a growing number of people are putting in backyard swimming pools, they still use the public pool, he said.

"When we have water restrictions, people come to the pool, when it's hot outside," Schroers said. "It's a family place to be."

The pool is open to the public from noon to 7 p.m.

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