The future of the municipal pool is no longer as clear as the water within; instead, it is as murky as the waters of Sand Creek.
“We are getting to a point that we need to improve it, or close it down,” said Brian Bascue, superintendent of the Newton Recreation Commission. “We all know there is no money out there.”
The pool, owned by the city of Newton, is operated by the Newton Recreation Commission. The last time there were updates or renovations to the facility, according to the NRC, was 1993.
Recently city manager Bob Myers contacted Bascue and aquatics director/assistant superintendent Bart Peace to begin discussions about the future of the pool. According to Bascue, it was made clear by Myers that the pool will be open for the 2018 swimming season.
After that, however, the future is much less clear.
"What has been heard from the community is that they would prefer a more modern amenity like a water park," Myers said. "As a community, we are behind the curve in terms of providing an amenity of this nature. However, that is also an expensive proposition, which is not in anyone's budgets at this point in time."
A joint meeting of the Newton City Commission and Newton Recreation Commission has been tentatively set for Oct. 24 to discuss the future of the municipal pool located at 401 N. Santa Fe within Athletic Park.
“What is interesting is there is nothing to take its place,” said Willis Heck, a member of the Newton Recreation Commission.
However, Myers said there is not currently a plan that would close the pool without "something taking its place."
"At this time, all we have done is to begin a discussion about the future of this aging facility," Myers said.
City commissioner Glen Davis, whose wife ran the municipal pool just after it was built, confirmed to the Kansan that there have been discussions about the closure of the municipal pool by the city commission — and that there is a possible plan for what would happen in the area of the pool if it closed.
“They are talking about a spray park for $3 million,” Davis told The Kansan. “The kids that use that pool are not the kids that go to a spray park. I have a lot of concerns, but I do not have enough information. I want to make sure that the kids of Newton are taken care of, regardless of what part of town they live in. The pool does serve a need.”
The plan is not one that the commissioner supports.
“They have said that next year would probably be the last year for the swimming pool,” Davis said. “I do not want to speak for everyone, but I believe all the commission wanted public input before they make any decision. I do not want to close down the pool until we have something in place for the kids who go to the pool.”
Myers initiated conversation with the recreation commission in part because the issue was raised not only during a work session of the city commission, but also because a decision about the future of the public pool was mentioned on his annual performance review by commissioners.
"This was identified by the Commissioners as an issue which they believed is one of the community priorities going forward," Myers told The Kansan while confirming that it was brought up during his performance review.
Bascue said he will be insisting that there be public hearings and that the voting public be part of any kind of a final decision.
"It is their pool," said Jodi Runge, chair of the Newton Recreation Commission.
Davis told The Kansan during his time as commissioner he has been told the pool leaks, and he has also been told that is not true.
He estimates that the pool loses about $60,0000 each year, based on numbers he says have been shared with the commission.
“Most city pools do lose,” Davis said. “I do not know how factual that (number) is.”
According to numbers provided to the Kansan by the Newton Recreation Commission, the commission has lost between $45,000 and $54,000 each year since 2013. Pool revenue and expenses have not been finalized for 2017. The Rec Commission estimates that the city spends about $10,000 for equipment each year, in addition to donating water for the pool. The pool holds about 330,000 gallons of water.
According to Myers, all operating losses are incurred by the Rec Commission, and not the city.
"The NRC pays for all operational expenses for the pool, other than the cost of water, which the city provides," Myers said. "Our public works people have to deal with mechanical and other physical operational issues at the pool from time to time. But the more pressing issue is that the pool is an aging facility and could, at any time in the next few years, require major expenditures to keep it operational."
This year, pool attendance was 12,547 people — the lowest in five years. Bascue said that was due to a cool August, with some days the pool not even opening because water temperatures were too low to allow for swimming.
The five year high for pool usage came in 2016, when 16,389 tickets were sold during the swim season.
"If that pool closes down, there will be a lot of people losing out. There is a lot of value, everything from recreational use to exercise to learning how to swim," Bascue said.
2013 — 15,635
2014 — 14,384
2015 — 14,627
2016 — 16,389
2017 — 12,547
Pool losses recorded by Rec Commission
2013 — $54,281
2014 — $53,304
2015 — $49,800
2016 — $45,573
2017 — Revenue and expense figures are not complete for the 2017 season.
About this story
Rumors of the city moving forward with the closure of the municipal pool in Athletic Park started to circulate at the end of the 2017 pool season after the subject of the municipal pool surfaced at a city commission work session. The Kansan went looking for some answers.
Why this is important
Several thousand people make use of the pool each summer. The pool, owned by the city and operated by the Newton Recreation Commission, was last updated in 1993.