NK Pool enters rough financial waters

POULSBO — North Kitsap School District Aquatics Manager Greg Schmidt has faced an unenviable task this summer: find a way to run a $300,000-a-year pool on a $250,000 budget.

The result of the financial shortfall has put Schmidt in the position of deciding which of the pool’s programs and resources will continue to swim, and which will have to sink.

“To run the pool for less than ($300,000) is going to hurt,” Schmidt said. “And it is already hurting.”

Two part-time swim instructor positions and one front desk cashier position are already slated to be eliminated for the forthcoming 2004-05 fiscal year, starting in September. The loss of three positions will bear a heavy impact on the rest of pool programming, Schmidt said.

“They do a lot of important work here which we’ll have to absorb,” Schmidt said. “Having those positions eliminated will hurt us. And they were also good jobs.”

Budget cuts are needed because of less-than-expected revenues following the pool’s extensive renovation in 2001 and 2002. The subsequent fiscal year in 2002-2003 — the first full year following the remodel — brought in $35,000 less than what was projected.

The current budget shortfall will create numerous cuts in programming as well as more work for current pool employees. Any swimming program with poor attendance will be terminated as will all programs in diving, synchronized swimming, water polo and some of the aquacize classes.

“Our strategy is cutting back on the things that aren’t doing well and keeping the things that are,” Schmidt said.

Because the pool cannot be open without an employee working the front desk, changes within the current work schedule will be made to compensate for the lack of a part-time cashier as well.

“The cashier’s job has to be covered,” Schmidt said, “so we’ll probably have to rotate the life-guards out there.”

The North Kitsap Pool, which opened in 1976, enjoyed one of its best fiscal years ever in 1999. Revenues that year soared to $182,000 but fell by about $32,000 in the year that followed. After the $60 million NKSD bond was passed in March 2001, the pool was slated to receive a much-needed renovation.

During the remodel, Bainbridge Island Parks and Recreation opened a leisure pool, which did not help matters at the closed North Kitsap site.

The first full year of operation following the remodel saw an income of $152,000 — $35,000 short of what the district had expected. The lack of revenue — triggered by a lack of use of the pool — leaves Schmidt puzzled.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “I don’t think people understand what we’ve got here. We just need to get the word out.”

North Kitsap may just be involved in what looks to be a trend across the state of Washington.

“Pools are not money makers,” said North Kitsap School District Director of Finance and Operations Nancy Moffatt. “Districts that maintain them all across the state have been closing them (due to lack of funding) lately.”

Matters weren’t helped this year by a downed boiler that closed the pool for six weeks during December 2003 and January 2004. Numbers for the current year will not be known until after August, when the current fiscal year ends.

Moffatt added that the district is exploring options to help generate more public interest in the pool. One possibility is through the district’s new agreement with the Kitsap County Public Facilities District. Though the PFD cannot give monetary assistance for operating expenses, the new partnership may enable the county to donate funds toward new infrastructure at the pool, such as a slide or spa. Such amenities could potentially raise more public interest in the pool, Moffatt said.

“If we could figure out a way to get more fun activities at the pool, that’d be a big help,” she remarked.

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