Final days: Pool to close this week

Chad Frey
Pool usage numbers did a belly flop when COVID-19 case numbers rose in late June and July. This will be the final week of operation for the Newton Municipal Pool.

This is, in all likelihood, the last week of operation of the current municipal pool — not only is the pool season coming to a close this week, but there is movement afoot to replace the pool in the off season.

And this season, more than any other, has been a struggle. COVID-19 has decimated usage numbers this year.

“Everything, even a lot of our programs we, were doing well when we started (under county reopening guidelines in June) and when we started getting more cases, people started staying away,” said Brian Bascue, superintendent of the Newton Recreation Commission. “It is understandable. People are trying to protect themselves and their families.”

The municipal pool is owned by the city but operated by the recreation commission.

In July Harvey County case numbers of COVID-19 started to steadily increase — nearly quadrupling during the month. Bascue said that led to a steady drop in average pool attendance.

Currently the pool is averaging between 75 to 100 people a day, with a capacity of about 450. By square footage, up to about 200 people could actually be in the pool facility under social distancing guidelines requiring 6 feet between people not in an immediate family.

“We have a lot of room,” Bascue said. “Back when we first opened we were doing really well. Then with an uptick in cases started, it fell away. Mid-July to now it has gone down considerably.”

The pool opened June 15, an opening that was delayed three weeks by COVID-19 and community reopening guidelines by the county and state. Harvey County entered the “phase-out” part of its reopening plan June 16 and has remained there.

When the pool opened, the final day selected was Aug. 14. Since that time, the start of school has been delayed. However, the pool closure will not be delayed.

“It all depends on our guards. We have a lot guards that are in extracurricular activities. They are planning to start practicing next week,” Bascue said. "A lot of guards are going back to college. We did not have enough guards to keep it open.“

The annual pooches’ plunge is slated for Aug. 22. That will be the last swim of any kind in the current pool.

As of July 28, the city of Newton is moving forward with a $3,042,000 project for both the reconfiguration of Centennial Park and a new municipal pool facility.

The project has been discussed for about three years, with delays forcing the hands of the city in the area of the pool.

“We have gotten to the point that there is no way we can open the pool next spring,” said Suzanne Loomis, director of public works for the city of Newton. “We would have to invest dollars in some of the things we have delayed ... those are large costs.”

City staff sent out requests for proposals to possible contractors to both design and construct a new pool. Included in the request is a facility including spray features for younger children, shade structures, climbing walls, inflatables, diving boards, a new slide and a lazy river — located at the current location with renovations to the current bath house facility.

This week some of those contractors showed interest in the approximately $2.1 million pool project.

"We had a meeting (Monday) with the contractors where they could come to the pool and look it over. There are contractors that are interested in the pool,“ Bascue said. ”It is nice to have a number of contractors who are interested in the pool project.“

Proposals are due back to the city Aug. 18.

Financing of the project is still up in the air, with the city courting the school district in order to make use of the Public Building Commission to finance the project. The PBC was created as a three-way partnership between USD 373, the city of Newton and the Newton Recreation Commission.

About 40 people are employed during the summer to operate the pool.

The recreation commission will next meet at noon Aug. 14 at the Newton Activity Center, 415 N. Poplar St.