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Potterfield Pool loses more than $500,000 in five years

October 22, 1998

Pool deficit graphBy JULIE E. GREENE / Staff Writer




Hagerstown's Potterfield Pool has been swimming in red ink, losing $515,676 over the last five years.

The deficits have prompted city officials to look for ways to reduce the amount by which the city's general fund must subsidize the pool's operation.

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Some City Council members said they favor raising rates for swimmers who live outside the city.

Daily rates at the 730 Frederick St. pool range from $1 to $2.25 depending on age. Season passes are available.

Most council members said they favor keeping the pool open despite the red ink because it provides a public service. Figures show 20,669 admissions to the pool over the past summer.

Councilman William M. Breichner, who in the past has suggested closing the pool, said this week he wants to see if it would be possible to reduce personnel costs at the pool.

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But he said if the deficit cannot be sharply reduced, the council should seriously consider closing the pool.

Because of the pool's C-shape, 10 lifeguards are needed to cover the blind spots, Public Works Manager Doug Stull said. In addition to the 10 lifeguards on duty, two lifeguards rotate so that others can take breaks, a 13th lifeguard works at the baby pool and there are two supervisors.

If the pool were rectangular, only six lifeguards would be required to cover all areas of the pool, Stull said.

Stull said a past study showed that the cost of changing the pool's shape couldn't be justified by reductions in personnel costs, which were $71,350 this past summer.

It cost $125,162 to operate the pool this past season and another $8,376 went for improvements, according to the 1998 annual pool report.

Revenues from admissions, swimming lessons and concessions this season were $25,824, down slightly from $26,327 last year.

The pool season runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The pool closes early if fewer than 10 swimmers are in the pool, Stull said.

Marketing could attract more swimmers, thus increasing pool revenue.

A traditional marketing ploy - coupons offering two admissions for the price of one - backfired financially this year. Although pool attendance increased by 2,139 people to 20,669, paid attendance fell by 985 people to 12,043, Stull said.

The number of people who used the 2-for-1 and other coupons to get into the pool free more than tripled from 404 in 1997 to 1,249 in 1998, according to the annual report.

In addition, 5,951 youngsters ages 5 to 12 gained free admittance through play camps. Free family swim nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays drew another 1,426 people.

Free family swim nights are supposed to be limited to city residents, but pool personnel don't always screen people to determine where they live, Stull said. City employees and pass holders also can participate in family swim nights.

City officials said pool personnel need to come up with a simple way to screen pool users to determine whether they're city residents.

Karen Giffin, the city's public information manager, said the Small Business Development Center will prepare a free business plan that will analyze the pool's costs and hours of operation.

Giffin said she could survey season pass holders about why they use the pool and check with other pools in the area to see what they've done to draw more swimmers.

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