Juneau’s city manager has proposed closing the downtown swimming pool to trim $250,000 from the fiscal year 2015 budget and $500,000 in FY16. There are other ways to achieve those goals without causing such negative impacts on the many of us who rely on this important community asset. It is our hope that the Assembly will recognize the value of this resource and work to improve its efficiency rather than take it away from us.
The Augustus Brown Pool is heavily used by the public for fitness, recreation, swim lessons, safety training, competitions and social events. Closing the downtown pool and crowding everyone into the Dimond Park Pool in the Mendenhall Valley is likely to result in many not getting the basic water safety instruction or the fitness benefits that two pools offer.
Glacier Swim Club (which includes more than 200 youths and 50 adult-athlete members) has long supported Juneau’s swimming pools. As president of the Glacier Swim Club’s Board of Trustees, I’ve had many discussions with city staff and others concerning the budget shortfalls that have affected Juneau’s pools recently. Our swimmers, coaches, board members and parents have observed pool operations here and elsewhere. We’ve considered ways to reduce costs and increase revenue. Our board recently submitted a letter to the Assembly outlining several options that we believe could achieve the manager’s budget savings without closing Augustus Brown Pool. Among our recommendations:
1. Reduce administrative positions — Each pool has full-time manager and administrative positions. They share a full-time aquatics director and nearly five full-time equivalent cashiers. Other pools in Alaska operate with much smaller staffs. We believe each pool could be run by a manager and a lifeguard staff, with a single shared administrative position. This arrangement could save $319,000.
2. Reduce or eliminate janitorial staff — At most pools, custodial duties belong to the lifeguards, rather than dedicated janitors. Lifeguard time would increase by approximately one and a half hours per day. Savings would be $117,000.
3. Reduce pay scales for lifeguards — Current pay averages over $16 per hour for lifeguards. These are entry-level jobs for many high school students. Lowering the pay by $3 per hour could save $70,000.
4. Cover pools — Pools lose significant heat when not in use. Insulated blankets can reduce heating costs. Savings could be at least $90,000 per year.
5. Shorten GSC usage at Dimond Park — CBJ should allow Glacier Swim Club to use the entire Dimond Park facility during their practices. The Club provides its own lifeguards, so only one CBJ supervisor would be needed. Practice time would be shorter, allowing greater use by the public. Savings would be $45,000.
6. Fill the vendor spot at Dimond Park — Finding a food vendor for Dimond Park would create additional revenue at little added cost and would help to draw additional users. CBJ has not adequately pursued this.
7. Restructure schedules — Schedules at the two pools should complement each other. If there is an open swim at one pool, the other should offer lessons and lap swims. If a user group has all or part of a pool, the other should be open to the public. This would allow more staff sharing and more options for the public, increasing revenue.
8. Lease facilities to major user groups — Significant savings could result from leasing the facilities to groups like Glacier Swim Club, which can supply their own staff and lifeguards. In other communities, school districts lease the pools.
9. Create an empowered board to manage the pools — Eaglecrest Ski Area is managed by an empowered board and has experienced much higher cost recovery than the pools. An empowered board with a mission to improve efficiency while providing the best possible service to our community could dramatically increase cost recovery, reducing costs to CBJ.
Other pools contract out their lesson programs, offer flex-schedules for pool features to maximize availability, use employee incentives to leverage their staff as marketers, effectively market their facilities and open only during busy times.
Our pools contribute significantly to the quality of life in Juneau. It is critical that the assembly consider all options for maintaining these valuable facilities. Glacier Swim Club would like to be part of the solution, and we look forward to contributing however we can. Meanwhile, if you value the safety, fitness and social benefits that our downtown pool gives us, contact the CBJ Assembly and ask them to keep the Augustus Brown Pool open. There are better ways to make this work.
• Steve Brockmann is a lifelong swimmer and president of the Glacier Swim Club’s Board of Trustees.