Swimmers may continue to find relief from summer’s heat at Farmington’s outdoor pool after this year — if the aging facility keeps working.
Plans made last year to demolish the 45-year-old pool and replace it with a splash pad are on hold because of the tight budget facing the city this year and next. Instead, the city plans to keep the pool going “as long as it wants to stay alive,” Mayor Todd Larson said at a City Council meeting this month where a half dozen residents spoke in favor of keeping the pool open.
Council members expressed support for that idea but took no official vote on the pool’s fate at that meeting. They are expected to discuss it further at a budget workshop on Tuesday.
The city faces a budget crunch and can’t afford the splash pad it had planned to build at an estimated cost of $600,000 to $700,000, Larson said.
“When we realized we weren’t going to have the money for a splash pad, I kind of changed my mind on the pool and I do agree with what you guys are saying,” Larson said to pool supporters. “Maybe we should let it ride its life out and when it dies, it dies. And we deal with it then knowing that we don’t have money to replace it with anything.”
Larson and City Council members said they favored continuing to subsidize pool operations as long as the pool’s aging mechanical systems and structure hold up. The pool opened for the summer on June 10 and is supposed to remain open through Aug. 23.
“It doesn’t hurt to try,” Council Member Jason Bartholomay said. “If we get two years out of it, that’s better than none.”
A consultant said last year that the pool’s remaining life expectancy was one to three years.
“I can’t tell you when this equipment will be past its useful life,” City Administrator David McKnight said. “It could be five minutes from now, it could be a couple of years from now.”
The city subsidy for the pool ranges from $40,000 to $70,000 a year, depending on the attendance and costs, McKnight said.
The city spent $50,000 on the pool in 2012, which had 19 days when the temperature reached 90 degrees or higher, and $62,000 last year, which had just two such days, according to Randy Distad, Farmington’s parks and recreation director.
The subsidy is necessary because entrance fees and other charges cover about half the pool’s $125,000 annual operating expenses, Distad said.
Council Member Tim Pitcher said the city faces a difficult decision because building a new pool likely would require “a large levy for the fun of some people, but it may not be appropriate given our budget situation.”
Pitcher noted the city has plenty of undeveloped land and suggested contacting private companies that might be interested in building a project that would include a pool.
Attendance at the Farmington pool has dropped over the past decade, from a high of nearly 14,400 visits in 2006 to a low last year of about 8,000.
Officials said one factor limiting attendance may be the pool’s location on the southern end of Farmington. More development has taken place in the northern part of city.
A more central location — the undeveloped Jim Bell Park and Preserve at 195th Street and Diamond Path — has been discussed as a possible site for a new pool and aquatic facility. The consultant’s report said such a project would cost between $7.2 million and $9.4 million.
Bartholomay said he hopes the city continues to explore options for a new pool when budget pressures subside.
“It’s been a staple of the community for a long, long time,” he said.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.