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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
NORTH PORT — City commissioners plan to close the North Port Aquatic Center on Wednesdays and raise the non-resident daily fee to use it from $10 to $12, as part of a plan to decrease potential operating costs for a park that won't even be open for business until next July.
The city broke ground on the long-awaited aquatic amenity on June 30, in hopes that it would be open next summer.
The $10.8 million aquatic complex will include both a 25-yard stretch competition swimming pool suitable for most high school and college swim meets, a lazy river leisure pool, a kids activity pool with zero entry, two body flumes, a bowl slide, shade structures, a bath house with locker rooms and concessions.
The stretch pool has a
movable bulkhead and will be able to accommodate both 25-meter and 25-yard competition swim meets.
Originally the pool was supposed to be open from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, excluding certain holidays.
The aquatic center recreational amenities were scheduled to be opened from noon to 7 p.m. on weekends only from April 1 to Memorial Day; from Memorial Day to Labor Day, it would have been open daily from noon to 8 p.m. It would open on weekends only again from noon to 7 p.m. from Labor Day through Halloween.
Based on estimates from consultant Counsilman-Hunsaker, the aquatic center could expect an attendance of 87,228 in its first full year of operation, with revenues of $670,990 and expenses of nearly $1.3 million — creating a projected deficit of $611,447.
If the park opens on schedule in July 2019, it will be available for 41 percent of the typical season. Even then, the projected revenue would be $276,110, compared with projected expenses of $545,730, for a $269,620 deficit.
The deficit could be reduced somewhat once the Sarasota County School District and the city sign a use agreement for school swim teams. A similar agreement could be struck with Image School's North Port campus.
City Manager Peter Lear noted that while school district officials had no interest in paying to help construct the pool, they had expressed willingness to pay for its use. But any agreement would not be in place prior to the 2019-20 school year.
"At the end of the day, the pool is opening, as far as the school is concerned, for the next school year, not the one that's about to start," Lear said.
City commissioners have long contended that while it's doubtful the park will break even, the deficit won't be severe.
Mayor Vanessa Carusone thought the facility would be overstaffed.
"I just think there are way too many lifeguards for this facility," said Carusone, who doubted the consultant's recommendation that 19 lifeguards should be on duty when the entire complex is open.
She suggested staff find out the numbers for Sun Splash Family Water Park in Cape Coral, Adventure Island in Tampa and Rogers Aquatic Center in Rogers, Arkansas, to figure out what the city should budget.
Vice Mayor Linda Yates added that it would be easier to reduce the number of lifeguard hours needed, once the park opens, rather than cut back prematurely.
The city is already hiring a mix of full-time and part-time lifeguards.
Basic coverage, when the lap pool alone is open, calls for three lifeguards, a recreation attendant and one supervisor.
Year-round, that would mean hiring four full-time lifeguards and anywhere from two to 39 part-time lifeguards, whose work week would be capped at 29 hours — enough to qualify for partial vacation benefits but not enough for health benefits.
Joan Morgan, a former city commissioner and longtime proponent of the pool, said many of those part-time lifeguards would be high school students.
"Kids want the extra money on the vacation dates; we need the extra lifeguards," she added.
To decrease costs, the commission unanimously voted to close on Wednesdays, which were cited by City Commissioner Jill Luke, who has previous pool management experience, as down days — for a projected savings of as much as $92,360. School holidays and in-service days were exempted.
Gid Pool, another longtime pool champion, questioned the wisdom of closing Wednesdays in the summer.
"There are about eight weeks of school vacation, and you're going to close eight days during the height of use by kids," Pool said.
It was easier to bump the rates for non-resident use from $10 to $12 plus tax for adults and to $10 plus tax for children, seniors and veterans — creating more separation from the proposed resident day rates of $8 plus tax for adults and $6 plus tax for seniors and veterans, with babies up to 23 months free.
Annual park passes for residents would be $150 for adults, $110 for children, veterans and seniors, with a four-person family pack set at $375. Additional family members would cost $30 per pass, while annual passes for the swimming pool only are $75 per year.
The board also unanimously voted to direct staff to develop plans for people to sponsor the pool with decorative pavers inscribed with names, as well as seasonal corporate sponsorship signage.
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