After about a year of discussion, research and requests for public opinion, the Columbia Association's board of directors will take a straw poll Saturday on maintaining all 23 outdoor pools in Columbia.
The poll will come after a task force, created to solve lackluster pool attendance, recommended that the association look into scrapping or "repurposing" less-used pool locations.
"Most generally, we need to look into what our aquatic system is going to be," said board member Tom Coale.
The worry is that residents would no longer have a neighborhood pool–many of which have been in the communities for more than 30 years.
Coale said the number of residents who have shown up for testimony has increased at every pool meeting over the past year and the time has come to decide the direction of the pool program.
"We're trying to make this as transparent a process as possible," Coale said. "I think we know pretty well what the residents are saying."
According to the report, the number of pool users could significantly change in the near future.
Nearly 60 percent of households in Columbia have one or two residents–which indicates few children. The percentage of households with one or two residents is only projected to grow, according to Census numbers.
Households in Columbia have decreased by more than a person, on average, since the community's early days in the 1970s. Census data projects Columbia households will shrink even further from the 2.65 per home recorded in 2010, to 2.51 in 2020.
"I would imagine it has to do with people aging in place or kids growing up and moving out," says Bill Santos, a blogger who has written about the changing demographics of Columbia.
"It's premature to start discussing either closing or repurposing pools right now," says Santos.
Coale said the language and numbers in the recommendation have not been entirely clear and the pools may not be costing the association as much as previously thought.
"Many board members are concerned that the income is not being correctly calculated," Coale told Patch.
He says it's possible that the income totals may only include pool memberships purchased individually and not the memberships paid as part of larger deals within Columbia Association services.
Possible discrepancies of income exist in the recommendation, which states that the pools fall short on expenses of approximately $4 million by a margin of $2.5 million annually, for the past three years.
A graph in the recommendation also shows expenses actually falling every year from 2009 to 2011, while income increases just slightly every year.
Still, the recommendation insists the pool program change, in order to better serve the demands of Columbia residents.
"Unless there are massive movements away from these statistical trends, Columbia will be a different community in the not too distant future," says the report. "Change cannot simply be ignored."
The possibility of repurposing a pool location for some other use would be based on a three-year study of pool usage, demographic shifts and residents' preferences of keeping the pool or having some other facility in its place.
The recommendation does not specify whether the study will look into the past three years or the next three years, but Coale hopes it will look ahead.
"Our planning intends to be both reflective and prospective," said Coale, "but what I would like is a prospective look at the next three years."
If the Columbia Association decides to keep all 23 pools open, then expenses will only go up as the facilities age and maintenance needs increase, according to the report. Infrastructure decisions would have to be made in order to maintain the pools' collective asset value of $190 million.
Reducing the number of pools, however, would allow expansions and improvements to be made to the remaining facilities, like spas and heated pools, according to the report.
According to CA numbers from 2011, the five least attended pools were:
- Talbott Springs with 5,502 visitors or 55 per day (of 100-day pool season)
- Jeffers Hill with 7,674 visitors or 77 per day
- Bryant Woods with 8,521 visitors or 85 per day
- Locust Park with 10,198 visitors or 102 per day
- Faulkner Ridge with 10,461 visitors or 105 per day
The top five pools by attendance were:
- River Hill with 53,764 visitors or 538 per day
- Swansfield with 40,536 visitors or 405 per day
- Dorsey Hall with 38,907 visitors or 389 per day
- Kendell Ridge with 33,357 visitors or 334 per day
- Hopewell with 28,434 visitors or 284 per day