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Future uncertain for some aging public pools

Danielle Guerra - 
Hopkins Pool lifeguard Cully Hicks, helps pool manager Lee Geyer line up lounging chairs on the deck of the pool to clean them on Thursday, May 22, 2014. The DeKalb Park District Hopkins Pool opened for this season on May 31.
Danielle Guerra - Hopkins Pool lifeguard Cully Hicks, helps pool manager Lee Geyer line up lounging chairs on the deck of the pool to clean them on Thursday, May 22, 2014. The DeKalb Park District Hopkins Pool opened for this season on May 31.

Ted Strack doesn't know when, but at some point the Sycamore Park District pool probably will close because needed repairs will be too costly.

“I think everybody on the board wants a pool,” said Strack, president of the Sycamore Park Board. “It's good for the community, but you have some financial realities.”

Outdoor municipal pools can draw people in northern Illinois, but with unpredictable weather and maintenance costs, the short-season amenity can easily shift from breaking even to running a deficit with bad weather. That problem has led some park officials to question whether running a pool is worth the expense, while others say the very public amenity is dear to their constituents.

While Sycamore Park District officials have decided against renovating their pool in the near term, DeKalb park board members continue to grapple with how to renovate the aging Hopkins Pool. Meanwhile, Genoa Township Park District officials face an annual struggle to make their acquatics operation break even.

Sycamore pool

The Sycamore Park District last year spent $98,000 to run its pool, including about $26,000 in maintenance costs, while only bringing in $70,000 from the 11,477 visits.

Although district officials have changed pool hours and the cost of passes, the changes will likely not be enough to keep the 31-year-old pool open long-term. The district's Vision 2020 plan doesn't include plans to repair or replace the pool in the next six years. Instead, park officials will keep the pool open until it requires a large capital expense, which they expect could come within a decade.

“Looking at building a new pool, it would cost $6 million to $7 million,” Strack said. “The reality is the community would have to pay for it."

In the meantime, the district will consider pursuing a referendum that would create, among other things, a zero-depth water play area for children. Park officials also will invest in other seasonal operations such as golf, which Strack said are less expensive.

Sycamore and DeKalb officials discussed building a joint facility last year to no avail, in part because of difficulties in selecting a site to build it. While Sycamore officials have said they would be open to similar talks in the future, discussions haven't restarted.

Hopkins Pool

DeKalb park commissioners next week will review a report from the ad hoc committee that was created to look at options for Hopkins Pool, the 40-year-old amenity that sees nearly 40,000 visitors a year and employs 65 people during the summer.

Hopkins has been the center of debate among park board members for years. After a $15 million referendum to replace the pool failed in February 2010, park officials decided to look for other options.

PHN Architects pegged renovation costs for Hopkins between $3.8 million and $5.7 million; building a new pool would cost about $6.4 million.

Going a similar route as Sycamore also could be an option, although park board vice president and pool committee member Per Faivre said the park board would not make such a decision lightly.

“I think in the depth of people's hearts is having a pool for the community,” Faivre said. “I think it's very important to the public to have that pool.”

Community value will have to be weighed against the district's finances. For the current fiscal year, DeKalb officials expect to bring in about $3,000 more than the $257,000 it costs to operate the park. However, the pool ran a $38,000 deficit in 2013, according to the district's financial records.

Although there are several indoor pools in DeKalb County and maintaining DeKalb's outdoor pool will come at a cost, DeKalb Park Board President Phil Young said he's not ready to see aquatics go by the wayside.

"I think it would be a disservice to the community if we didn't look at keeping a pool in the DeKalb Park District," Young said.

Chamberlain Park pool

Public pools in DeKalb County can be sensitive financial ventures even when they aren't begging for costly repairs or renovations.

The Genoa Park District renovated its Chamberlain Park pool in 1996 and sees about 10,000 visits a season, aquatics Director Sandi Rease said. On an average Friday or Sunday, the pool bustles with almost 700 visitors throughout the day, she said.

“It's a place for the community to gather,” Rease said. “We welcome anybody and everybody.”

Regardless of the pool's popularity, a particularly cool or rainy summer takes a financial toll.

Executive Director Paul Bafia said in 2012, the Genoa Park District's pool revenues were about $4,000 more than it's $73,264 in expenses. He credits the profit to a warm and sunny season. Last year, however, the district lost about $6,000 because bad weather kept customers away, he said.

“The pool never really makes a lot of money for us,” Bafia said. “We usually break even.”

By the numbers

Sycamore pool

Address: 940 E. State St., Sycamore

Age: 31 years

2013 visits: 11,477

Hopkins Pool

Address: 1403 Sycamore Road, DeKalb

Age: 40 years

2013 visits: 39,932

Chamberlain Pool

Address: 400 E. Second St., Genoa

Age: About 48 years

2013 visits: About 10,000

Source: Sycamore, DeKalb, Genoa park districts

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