Aquatic Center attendance dipsThe pool of people using the Mitchell Aquatic Center is getting shallower. The outdoor pool and water park had the second-lowest attendance in its short history this year.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
The pool of people using the Mitchell Aquatic Center is getting shallower.
The outdoor pool and water park had the second-lowest attendance in its short history this year. A total of 39,224 used the pool and other segments of the water park in 2011, according to city statistics.
That’s down from 41,751 who used the Aquatic Center in 2010. The worst year was in 2009, when 28,949 used the pool. The first year it was open, 2006, set the high mark at 54,340.
Kevin DeVries, the Park and Recreation Department’s new recreation director, said the weather is the biggest factor in how many people use the facility.
“The last few years have been cold and wet,” DeVries said. “That kind of affects attendance. “The very first year was the all-time high. Unbelievable weather. Great weather.”
He said hot weather is also problematic, as crowds slump when the temperature gets above 95 and simmers near 100.
“Sometimes people just can’t sit out there, even under an umbrella,” DeVries said.
There are other reasons people may not use the facility, he said.
“As far as attendance being up and down, obviously the economy has hurt everyone and our department has been affected by it just like most businesses have,” DeVries said. “I think people have had to choose certain things to spend or not spend their money, so that has had an effect on the pool as well as all of our programs.”
Billie Kelly was the city’s recreation director for 34 years. Last month she took a new post as the city’s human resources director.
“It was a pretty average year as far as weather goes, but I think the economy also played a pretty significant role in attendance,” Kelly said via e-mail. “We don’t track how much of our attendance comes from tourists or visitors from other communities, but if tourism was down, that would impact our numbers as well. It was a good year for the pool, usually busy but not swamped.”
She said it’s important to put the pool numbers in perspective.
“On a historical note, every year with the new Aquatic Center has far surpassed the attendance of the old Hitchcock pool, and I think city taxes supplement the operational costs of the new facility less than the old facility,” Kelly said. “We bring in much more revenue now, and that revenue covers a significant portion of the costs.
In 2003, the old Hitchcock Park pool brought in $19,000 and had $67,000 in expenses, a $48,000 gap. This year, with not all expenses and revenue finalized yet, there was $162,772 in revenue and $203,059 in expenses, a gap of $40,287.
There are other factors to consider than the reported attendance, Kelly said.
“I want to add that the Aquatic Center gets a lot of use other than just the attendance numbers — we had about 700 children take swimming lessons at the Aquatic Center this season, and each one has 12 lessons — so that would be 8,400 times the pool was used for lessons,” she said.
“Also, swim team uses the pool several times a week for practices plus their two big swim meets. We don’t include these numbers in attendance figures (this year or any year) — but just wanted to acknowledge that there is a lot more usage of the facility by the community than the attendance numbers show.”
The Recreation Division continues to devise plans to get more people into the center, Kelly said.
“There are plans to have more special events to draw people to the pool in the future,” she said. “Anyone with any ideas they’d like to see implemented should contact the department.”
The Aquatic Center opened this year on May 28, since a Memorial Day weekend opening is always a goal.
It remained open seven days a week through Aug. 21, with reduced hours in the final week. DeVries said 12 lifeguards are always on duty and there were no serious accidents.
The average daily attendance for the season was 461, with an average of 503 per day in June, 577 in July and 373 in August.
The biggest day of the year was June 30, when 1,292 hit the center to cool off. The high was 95 that day, DeVries said.
Days earlier, on June 22, only two people came to the center, he said, which was the lowest turnout of the year. It was 61 degrees and rainy and the pool closed after an hour and a half.
The city sold 716 family memberships, 502 at a full price of $120 and another 214 on scholarship, or $70.
Another 127 youth memberships were sold for $60 and a new program, the caregiver pass, also called the babysitter pass, had 71 buyers at $30.
There was an odd problem at the pool this summer, as there were at least three reports of someone defecating in the pool, DeVries said.
When lifeguards saw the problem, the pool was closed and cleaned with a chemical that eliminated all unwanted matter, he said.
“They super-shock it,” DeVries said.
The center opened in Hitchcock Park in 2006.
According to a June 2006 Daily Republic story, the city planned to make annual payments of about $344,000 on the center’s 15-year financing plan, and there are monthly expenses including staff, utilities and pool chemicals.
Mayor Lou Sebert said this week that the city still owed $2,488,338 on the pool at the end of 2010. The bonded debt incurred on the facility was about $3.65 million.