Seattle-Area Pools Drained But Not Defeated

An aging infrastructure and severe budget cuts are combining to drain swimming pools in and around Seattle. While this situation is not unique to the Emerald City, it is spurred by a King County bond measure passed by local voters 42 years ago. Known as "Forward Thrust," the measure paid for the construction of several bunker-like concrete pools in the 1970s with little in the way of amenities. As The Seattle Times reports today, those bonds, which required the pools to stay open for 40 years, are expiring - and so are the pools. "It's just worn out," Craig Larsen, Redmond's parks and recreation director, told reporter Nicole Tsong, referring to that city's only public pool, which is now closed for major repairs. Larsen is hopeful the indoor facility will reopen in September - but even then, the city will need to set aside approximately $100,000 a year to subsidize the pool's operation.

City leaders in nearby Bothell, where the Ruiz-Costie/Northshore Pool has been closed since last year after a boiler broke and they couldn't find an operator to take over the facility, are optimistic, too. An Oregon-based microbrewery and entertainment-venue operator recently agreed to incorporate the indoor pool into a new hotel complex and give local residents free access for 15 years. The bad news? That facility isn't slated to open until 2013.

While communities outside of King County may not have been part of Forward Thrust, their outdated public pools began drying up shortly after the turn of the century. Rather than close, though, splash pads and waterparks replaced them. As The Times reported in a separate story, the cities of Cashmere and Ephrata reconfigured their pools in the early-2000s into small-scale waterparks with slides, zero-depth entries and spray devices that also accommodate lap swimming, swim meets, water aerobics and water-safety courses. Neither facility has turned a profit, but operators of both say the waterparks have a lot more going for them than the pools they replaced.

"From the city's standpoint, it's all about user satisfaction," Bob Schmidt, Cashmere's director of operations, told Times reporter Mike Irwin. "Few things give residents - especially kids - so much pleasure for so little money." Added Wes Crago, city administrator for Ephrata, "There's a whole spectrum of factors - some tangible, some intangible - in building a waterpark for your community. Fun has to rank near the top of the list."

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