Like seemingly every other year here in Mid-Missouri, this summer figures to be a hot one. With kids on summer vacation, many will engage in the age-old tradition of taking a dip at their local community pool.
This area has always been fortunate to have multiple options for those in need of a summer swim session. But with options, comes competition, and with competition, comes survival.
With increasing costs of equipment, chemicals and above all, water, it's not surprising that running a community pool is not as easy as it used to be. But in communities where the population is under a thousand, why is it that some pools thrive, while others struggle to hold water?
For starters, community support has a lot to do with it. In towns like Russellville, Jamestown and Prairie Home, where the pools are community-owned, the money that a pool's leadership organization gets via donation or fundraising can essentially make or break the operating budget.
Take the Prairie Home Community Pool, for instance. In recent years, the pool has been able to operate on a budget of less than $5,000 per year. Typically, the biggest chunk of that money has been raised though a bingo fundraiser at the Prairie Home Fair, but annual proceeds from that event have usually stayed in the ballpark of $1,000 to $2,000.
This spring, Prairie Home put in place an all-new, four-member board led by president Amy Small. With the different perspectives of some of these new board members, the group recently came to its decision to keep the pool closed for the 2016 summer. The way Small sees it, the pool board held meetings that simply forced the organization to hash out every necessary expense. With community pools, you have some expenses that immediately come to mind, and some that don't.
Obviously, the water and electric bills tend to be the biggest line items here. When operating a community pool, it's important to be able to keep the water running and the lights on. After that, you have salaries. In Prairie Home, where the board is volunteer, lifeguards are the only paid employees. Functional utilities and on-site workers are the expenses that pool-goers see. But what about the ones they don't?
Every community pool must pay to have insurance. This, of course, is mandatory for safety reasons. The more features a pool has, the higher insurance will be. Prairie Home lost its diving board years ago for this reason. Finally, there's the chemicals. With an increased focus on cleanliness over the years, a one-time charge for the necessary chemicals is not realistic unless a pool expects to have only a handful of occupants in a given summer.
And let's face it, a handful of users, even in a small community, just won't cut it if a pool wants to stay open. Since being opened in 1980, the Community Pool of Russellville has relied on membership and gate fees to help pay for itself. The pool's water bill is upwards of $1,000 per month in the summer and with no cover, some water is kept in over the winter months as well.
Like Prairie Home, Russellville's board of directors is all-volunteer and the only paid employees are its three lifeguards. While this keeps salaries manageable, the board is still in charge of getting together the funds for draining, repainting and general upkeeep (the pool will have a new metal roof this summer).
"We hope to continue operating every summer," Russellville pool board member Jennifer Seaver said. "(The pool) is an asset to our community and we hope to keep opening our doors and keep the community involved."
While Russellville has had more difficulty in recent years running its community pool — though not at the level of Prairie Home — those same issues have not been the case 30 miles north in Jamestown.
As with Russellville, the Jamestown Community Pool at Lions Club Park is run by a seven-member board made up of volunteers. Two years ago, the pool was able to remodel to the tune of $200,000 through community donations.
According to Jamestown Pool Board President Courtney Borts, high support has always been a staple for the community pool. Since the rebuild, she says, support has even grown stronger and she expects that to continue into the future.
"(The pool) is an important thing that gives kids something to do in the summer," Borts said. "It is a source of entertainment and socialization and it's important for kids to learn how to swim. Without our pool, they might not learn."
Borts speaks for all community pool leaders and decision-makers. The goal is to give kids a safe and positive outlet for their summer free time and above all, teach them an incredibly useful life skill at a formative age.
While Borts maintains a successfull pool organization in Jamestown through outstanding community support and top-notch facilities, Small is attempting to implement those same principles in order to get the Prairie Home Community Pool back on track. Her short-term goals include fixing the lifeguard stand, getting the pumps working better and making improvements to make the pool look more inviting, such as getting a slide. Long-term goals are continuous fundraising and acquring non-profit status.
"Once we get our improvements made, we might start up slow," Small said. "But once they see how nice it is, that will keep people coming in the following summers."