Problems at the Carter Park Pool are expected to be central to Ashland’s budget talks as town council weighs what to do with the 20-year-old recreational facility.
Among their deliberations is whether continuing to patch-up the 20-year-old facility still holds water in the face of rising maintenance costs.
According to figures provided by the town, approximately $37,692.84 has gone toward maintenance at the pool since Fiscal Year 2010, not accounting for upcoming repairs needed to get the facility up and running for this season.
“It’s like anything else; as it gets older you have to put more money into it,” said Charles Hartgrove, town manager.
In recent years, the town has focused on repairs to the pool’s mechanical systems and pump house. The pool was also completely resurfaced approximately eight years ago.
“The direction that we’re trying to receive from council is: Do you want us to continue putting the maintenance into the pool in small chunks every year or do you want us to look at a significant renovation?” Hartgrove said.
Speaking to Town Council March 5, Hartgrove recommended setting aside $100,000 annually in the town’s capital fund to apply toward either an extensive renovation or replacement of the facility or further repairs.
“Is this something we’re going to do during this summer? I would say no. I think we’re just trying to get direction for the next several years on what strategy council wants us to take,” Hartgrove said.
The town is working with pool contractors right now to get estimates on needed repairs. Dennis Rabon, parks and recreation coordinator, told Town Council March 5 that he anticipates $48,000 of maintenance costs for the upcoming season.
In a follow-up interview, Rabon said that the pool’s lights aren’t working up to par and some of the pool’s skimmers aren’t functioning. Cosmetic fixes include tile replacement and resurfacing the pool.
“I don’t know that any of that would prevent the pool from opening, but it would certainly make it better if we could repair these things,” Rabon said.
The facility is also losing water, a phenomenon that can’t be explained by simple evaporation.
“When you leave water in there and then you come back in the spring and it’s 70 percent gone, evaporation doesn’t account for all of that,” said Josh Farrar, deputy town manager and finance director.
The town is working with contractors to identify potential sources. The problem is that looking for the actual leak could be expensive, as it will likely require excavation.
“Somebody’s not going to go out there and spend a week looking for a leak for free,” Rabon said.
The pool originally opened in May 1993 at an initial cost of $396,794.29 and was paid off last summer.
Admission fees and different season passes go to offset the facility’s operational costs, which weigh in at approximately $154,084 per year, the lion’s share of the parks and recreation department’s budget.
Pool rates are reviewed annually as part of the budget process. Last year, pool attendance was at 9,626, down from 10,845 in 2011 and 10,918 in 2012. However, pool revenues were actually up. According to figures provided by Farrar, the pool netted $66,345 last year compared to $63,284 in 2011 and $53,789 in 2010.
“It’s like most municipal things, you’re not going to recoup anywhere close to 100 percent of your investment in the operations through ticket sales, but we try to recoup as much as we can and keep it at a reasonable rate because we want it to be attainable for everyone in town, too,” Hartgrove said.
While this year’s pool season shouldn’t be jeopardized, the long-term fate of the facility is expected to come up over the next few budget cycles.
“If council’s going to give us direction to save money over the next several years to make a significant investment in the pool, no matter what that means, whether it’s new construction or a complete renovation – I think that’s going to determine how much we invest in operations now.
“Are we going to do enough to make sure that things are functioning safely and efficiently? Sure,” Hartgrove added. “But how far above and beyond that do we go if we know we’re going to make a significant investment in the pool in three to five years?”