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Pleading for the community pool

The Kitsap Water Blossoms synchronized swim team uses the North Kitsap Community Pool to practice for state and regional meets. - File Photo
The Kitsap Water Blossoms synchronized swim team uses the North Kitsap Community Pool to practice for state and regional meets.
— image credit: File Photo

By TARA LEMM

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School District Board of Directors faces a tough decision: Should the district keep the community pool open?

The question must be asked as NKSD faces a 2008-09 $2.8 million budget shortfall and closing or significantly reducing the pool’s services would help shore up the budget.

While closing the pool is one of many alternatives to narrow the deficit, it remains a hot-button topic and a handful of community members showed up at Thursday’s meeting to plea for the pool.

Darla Sargent has been involved with the pool since 1991 as a teacher, lifeguard, volunteer and is now the Special Olympics swim team coach. She said the pool needs to be a community outreach and that community also dwells within the board members.

“My challenge to you today is give one hour to the pool, not as a volunteer, but to stop by and see in actuality what is happening and going on there,” Sargent said. “It’s a vibrant, exciting place full of life. That pool has a reason for being here.”

The board is sympathetic to comments like Sargent’s, which is why the district commissioned Ballard King Associates to assess the pool’s health and purpose. Ballard King Associates services came to a total $24,000, which the district split evenly with Central Kitsap School District (CKSD) and the Kitsap Public Facilities District (PFD).

NKSD Executive Director of Finance and Operations Nancy Moffatt shared the pool consultant report and the findings look favorable.

“The bottom line is our pool is doing as well as can be expected and that we do offer a large array of programs for our community,” Moffatt said. “NKSD will need to make a philosophical decision regarding the importance of the district continuing to provide the indoor aquatic facility in the future.”

Moffatt advised if substantial budget reductions are necessary the board should seriously consider, as alternatives to closing the pool, reducing the hours, forming a recreation district to help support the pool or selling it to a local nonprofit for operation.

“It must be recognized that public aquatic facilities and programs will always have to be subsidized to some extent,” Moffatt said. “We are doing everything we can to keep the costs down. We are trying to find ways to connect with the right people to make that happen.”

Pool Manager Greg Schmidt also gave the board a report that brimmed with pool positives.

He said swimming lessons are on the rise and people are signing up in record force. The pool pulled in record revenues, $197,756, from March 2007 through the end of February 2008. Potential partnerships are being developed with the area tribes, the CKSD and the PFD.

“The thing Nancy and I want to point out is there is light at the end of the tunnel,” Schmidt said. “It’s going to take time to get the pool out from under the school district’s burdens. We just have to have more time to do it. I’m trying to encourage you guys not to give up yet.”

As a means to reduce costs to the district, Schmidt said there’s the possibility of a joint operating agreement with CKSD that would likely save NKSD approximately $84,000. But that’s just an idea, as it has yet to be approved.

Another way to generate more revenue is to change its offerings, as currently the pool falls short of enticing a large recreational swimming crowd.

Schmidt suggested the possibility of a hot tub, a water slide and more recreational swimming space as ways to draw in the patrons.

“If we want to generate more revenue we have to change it,” he said. No decisions have been made, as board members want to know the exact costs of operating the pool beforehand.

“We don’t know any of these numbers so how do you expect us to make a decision?” Board Member Ed Strickland said.

Nailing down the numbers is easier said than done as the pool’s utilities are not submetered and the pool was not part of the original audit, Moffatt said.

But it’s been added to the audit so the costs can be isolated.

The fate of the pool may be up in the air, but one thing remains etched in stone: Hundreds of North End residents flock to the aquatic center each week.

Water aerobics classes draw 124 attendees, 218 kids are enrolled in lessons and 69 students use the pool to pursue competitive programs, which includes a synchronized swimming team and the Special Olympics team.

“It’s our mission to do what’s best for the kids,” Schmidt said. “Is closing the pool what’s best? I think not.”

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