Please Keep Our Pools Open!

Photo of Saint Edward State ParkMy pool is closing on December 31st. This is inexcusable given the state of recreational swimming pools in the Seattle area, and the growing interest in the sport of swimming (thank you Michael Phelps). In general, the Seattle area has very few public pools, and the pools we do have are old, antiquated and short (the lone 50m pool within 20 miles of Seattle is only open from June to August). Forty miles south of Seattle we have the Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center – a state of the art facility designed for high level competition – which has helped raise the quality of swimming in Washington State tremendously. Aside from KCAC, however, we have too few pools, almost all of which are old, poorly managed, and have  too many people trying to use them. The Seattle Public Pool closest to my house has lap swim in the mornings from 5:45-7:15. During that time there are two single lanes and two double-wide lanes. To swim in that 90 minute opening you will most likely share a lane with 5-10 other swimmers of varying ability. The next closest Seattle Public Pool has no morning lap swim times because there are two high school teams and a club team that have to coordinate practice space – the first group gets in at 4:30am, and the last group finishes at 7:30 in time for school.

And yet the State of Washington believes that there is no demand for more pools, and more pool time at each facility.

Six months ago the St. Edward State Park Carole Ann Wald Memorial Swimming Pool was reopened by new management after a 6 month closure when the State Parks Department cut funding for pools. West Aquatics won the bid and the pool appeared to be running much more smoothly than before. The pool offered all-day lap swim, so even during synchronized swimming and water aerobics there were lanes available for lap swim. I found that I could swim later, get more sleep, and have a less crowded lane thanks to the flexibility of the pool schedule. And I wasn’t the only one; the regulars from the area who I know from doing the lap swim scavenger hunt (where we scout our way through a dozen pool websites to find a lap swim time that fits with our changing schedules) were all switching to St. Edwards Pool so we could have a reliable place for lap swim, without the danger and hustle of sharing a lane with 10 people.

Additionally, the staff at St. Edwards Pool are wonderful. They know the names of the regulars, they listen to suggestions, and work really hard to improve the facilities (after sitting empty for so long the pool had a few odd smells and needed a mild makeover – which the staff willingly gave it). Swimming at St. Edwards is the first time in Washington State that I’ve felt like I was part a community at my pool. I wasn’t told to swim someplace else because I was too fast (that has happened at several Seattle Public Pools, and at University of Washington) and I wasn’t forced to wake up hours before dawn to swim in a hot bath with dozens of other desperate swimmers.

Even with such success at creating a great swimming destination, I was only mildly surprised when a couple of weeks ago this notice showed up on the pools door. It basically says that the economy is bad and West Aquatics is worried that they will not make any money off the pool. As such, they gave 30 days notice to the state and will close the pool on December 31st. I say mildly surprised because the pool management did nothing (literally nothing) to market their pool. No signs, no ads in the local Competitor magazine or the town newspaper, no posters on the bulletin boards of the overly crowded pools nearby, no new-member specials, no free-swim days, no community pool parties, no promotions of any kind to let the community know about this little gem of a pool in their own back yards. For the health of the pool and flexibility of schedule, I have not problem sharing a lane with a couple other people. The area clearly has enough patrons to demand the facilities, they just don’t know the pool is there, and West Aquatics never even took the time to update their website with a reliable pool schedule.

A reliable source told me that over the past 5.5 months, West Aquatics has lost only $3,000 – a pretty small number for the first six months of any business. Furthermore, swim lesson registrations have been increasing rapidly, the new year promises to bring resolution swimmers, and triathlon season is just around the corner. A little marketing could go a long way to turn that $3000 around. The maintenance required is inescapable. The quote to fix the pools heating system was $8500, which is a lot for a small organization like West Coast Aquatics. But the State of Washington has agreed in contract to pay any maintenance fees over $2500 – meaning the organization knew the limit of their maintenance responsibility going into this agreement. The fact that West Aquatics now claims that the maintenance fees were much greater than expected is preposterous and, basically, a lie.

West Aquatics’ motives for pulling out of the St. Edward management are rather unclear. The notice provides little honest or useful information, and the ultimatum of definitive closure gives the community no way to help the situation. We need a new management group to take over, one that actually cares about the outcome of this community pool (the way the current lifeguards do), and we need the State to put money behind a desperately needed public resource.

As if West Aquatics hadn’t created enough disdain among the pool’s patrons, they changed the pool hours so that there is no more morning swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was no prior notice. The only way I know this from a sign beside the locked door this morning announcing the pool’s limited hours from now until its imminent closure on December 31st. Had the friendly lifeguards known this, they likely would have told me when I bought my December pool pass, but since they were laid off last weekend, my guess is they didn’t know.

With the pool closing, I’m not sure that West Aquatics cares that I and many of the other St. Edwards Patrons have very negative feelings toward their organization for its lack of communication skills and terrible handling of our community pool, but I would encourage those who feel strongly about public health, and the benefits of public pools to contact the Washington State Parks Department* and tell them that swimming pools are good for the community, they are in demand, and they are worth supporting. Especially if the State can find a group to manage the pool who can do it honestly and with true investment in the future of the facility. Step 1 for the next group to take on facility management: put out a suggestions box – my suggestion? The pool is in the middle of a 316 acre state park and has been closed for six months, nobody will know it’s there if you don’t tell anyone.

*The Chairman of the State Parks Commission, Eliot Scull, can be reached by email at [email protected] Just a quick email letting him know that pools are important is enough to let him know that we care. Thanks.

Published by Ben

Ben Collins Professional Triathlete

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5 Comments

  1. I hate to see the yet again the Seattle area is closing another pool. Already i am getting frustrated trying to swim with 4-5 other people in lap swim, so i cant imagine nearing 10. Obviously the need for local pools is in demand. Its getting ridiculous, to the point that i dont swim as much because honestly i dont want to deal with the people (at which you may say im a spoiled club swimmer, which is most likely true, but honestly its annoying for everyone ).
    Thanx for posting ben.

  2. Benjamin. Good write up.

    Here is the solution! Stop swimming! I have not been in a pool in a year, and have no regrets! The road is always open for riding and running!

    But seriously, this is a problem. When I first moved to Seattle i was amazed at all the public pools available in the city (way more than anywhere else I had ever lived. Then I started running into the problems you described. Overcrowded lanes, tight schedules, older pools. Then they started the maintenance closures. Frankly I look back and don’t know how I dealt with it all. Seems so silly now. I have to say Ft. Collins kicks Seattle’s butt in pools. Our pools are open for laps all day long, and usually the entire pool. In the year I swam here I don’t think I ever had to share a lane!
    Granted there are WAY more swimmers in Seattle.
    I hear ya though, why is it so darn hard to find a decent pool? Not too much to ask.

  3. You might want to check out private clubs with pools – like TPC in Tiburon. They offered use of their pool for something like $100 a month or $5-$10 per use (master’s swim program). I’ve seen that a club or two in Seattle has this same option – so something to consider.

    It doesn’t fix the issue, but clubs generally have MUCH more reliable hours and a much lower threat of closure, but you’ll also find that the pools are generally not as important as the Yoga or Spin studios.

  4. I find it very frustrating, as a talented coach and long time competitive swimmer. (proven by having coached very successful athletes including Ben, and swam with very successful athletes including Joe Umphenour). I approached West Aquatics about getting involved with their program. I NEVER heard back. Subsequently I now work for King Aquatic Club, and have started my own coaching business named ‘Eastside Endurance’. West should have been able to more with this program, but a lack of vision and inspiration has cost our community a pool. Eastside Endurance is working hard to facilitate our local athletes. Eastside Endurance has added Megan Oesting to the staff. Megan is a former National team member in the freestyle events. Look for more from eastside Endurance. Keep up the good work Ben!

  5. Hi Ben and All,

    Great write up and comments but you have some of the facts wrong. Did you get notice of the Kenmore Community Meeting of March 10th about the pool?

    Over 100 members of the swimming community and gym user groups attended

    We are trying to get the pool/gym re-opened, we need as many voices as possible to do this.

    Please contact me if you are able to help. Thank you.

    Pat Hill
    425 485-8479

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