After spending 17 years trying to raise funds for a new municipal swimming pool in Granger, a local group has settled for a spray park — for now.
Construction on the $75,000 project is expected to begin by the end of the month, said Public Works Director Jodie Luke.
“We’re hoping to start immediately on breaking ground on it,” he said earlier this week. “We’re amassing our resources and prices and stuff on it to see what we can do.”
Budget constraints, coupled with deferred swimming pool maintenance, forced the city to close its pool in 2000. It was cracked and leaked so badly that it was difficult to keep the right chlorine balance in the water, and the all pipes underneath had deteriorated, Luke said.
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“It just outlived its life,” he said. “It was just in really rough shape.”
Granger isn’t alone in its struggle to operate a municipal swimming pool. Though pools are popular with the public, expenses continue to outpace revenue in many small cities, forcing them the find alternatives such as spray parks and even skate parks.
Last year, Zillah closed its 80-year-old municipal pool after running into problems that were too expensive to fix. A skate park has been built in the same park that’s home to the pool.
Even larger cities such as Yakima have closed pools because they are too expensive.
Yakima closed two of its four municipal swimming pools more than a decade ago, replacing them with spray parks.
But some cities, including Wapato and Toppenish, are finding alternative ways to fund swimming pools.
Wapato opened its pool Friday for the first time in two years when the Yakama Nation, the Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic and two fruit processors – Valicoff and Legacy – pulled together to help the city cover the more than $100,000 in operating costs.
The tribe requested the city offer free admission this year, and an agreement is being crafted to have the tribe take over pool operations under a lease agreement over the next five or 10 years, Mayor Tony Guzman said.
Wapato is on the Yakama Nation Reservation.
Finding outside organizations willing to help fund a municipal swimming pool is tough at best, Guzman said.
“That’s just the thing, I overturned every stone I could to find money to support it,” he said. “It’s really hard.”
Neighboring Toppenish worked out a deal with the Toppenish School District to offset some of its costs in the parks department so it could afford the more than $150,000 annual operational cost of its swimming pool.
The school district pays half of the Park and Recreation director’s annual salary of $52,500. In turn, the parks director runs the district’s winter intramural sports program.
“It’s the same kids that participate in the city’s summer intramural programs, so it works out,” said City Manager Lance Hoyt.
There have also been donations from other organizations such as Legends Casino, Washington Beef and Les Schwab Tires. Those donations not only help keep the pool operating, but have also paid for a concession stand at the pool that generates about $6,000 a year in profits and maintenance upgrades to the pool that cut filtration and chemical costs.
Hoyt thinks seeking outside funding sources to keep municipal pools open will become more common for cities as budgets continue to be further complicated by expenses outpacing revenue.
“The city of Toppenish’s pool is alive and doing well through the support of our community and donations,” Hoyt said.
Although Granger is installing a spray park, it’s not giving up on the dream of one day having a swimming pool, said pool committee vice chairwoman Helen Dodd.
“We have a very large percentage of young people in our town that could really benefit from some kind of activity,” she said. “They’re excited about the fact that there’s going to be someplace they can go and get cooled off during the summer.”
Over the years, the committee managed to raise $45,000, which will go toward the spray park that will be installed at the city’s downtown park on Main Street between Third and fourth streets. Another local committee, Friends of Granger, is providing $30,000, and the city will handle installation, Dodd said.
“It’s just one day at a time here, and we’re getting less-expensive things going,” she said.
Later, Dodd said, the city would like get a skate park similar to the one in Zillah, where a student resource officer helped youths raise $15,000 to install skate ramps atop an old tennis court.
“We’re really excited to have it down there since we don’t have the pool,” said Zillah City Administrator Sharon Bounds.