The Rohnert Park City Council held a discussion at Tuesday evening’s meeting to consider the future of the Magnolia Pool in the M section of town, which ultimately under the direction of council members, is to be revitalized with new ideas from city staff on how to make its operation of programs more successful and enjoyable for residents. Community services brought the agenda item to the council following a request to analyze the use and operating costs of the pool in order to determine if the costs to operate the pool could be better used for another cause.
The main goal of the agenda item was to direct city staff to perhaps consider alternative recreation programming and activities in place of the operation of the pool on Middlebrook Way and to decide whether or not it’s worth it to continue its operation, which has seen declining use.
Rohnert Park currently operates three public pools, Honeybee Pool – a year-round pool, and Benicia and Magnolia Pools, which only operate during the summer months.
Back in February of 2017, the community services department first brought to light several struggles in operating the M section pool. According to the agenda item report prepared by Community Services Manager Cindy Bagley and Management Analyst Angela Beran, “Staff identified historical struggles of the aquatics program as a whole, as well as a lack of attendance at Magnolia Pool individually. Program wide struggles included the inability to recruit and retain qualified staff to serve the capacity of swim instructor and lifeguard, causing pools to be temporarily closed and programs cancelled. Historically, Magnolia had had low attendance and has been the first pool closed in times of staffing or budgetary restraints.”
Bagley also spoke of the progress that was made in addressing some of these issues, such as staffing, during the last spring swim season, “Last spring we were able to not close any aquatics programs and hired an aquatics coordinator, which allows them to train those who aren’t lifeguard certified.”
Despite some improvements, according to statistics compiled by RP Community Services, the rate of attendance for Benicia and Honeybee pools are quite higher than that of the recorded attendance rate of Magnolia Pool for the summer of 2017.
For weekend public swims, the average number of swimmers per hour for Benicia and Honeybee Pools was around 10 or 11. Magnolia Pool received less than half of the average number of swimmers than the other two public pools. Only four swimmers would attend M pool per hour throughout the summer months.
Last summer, community services did attempt to boost attendance, whereupon based on city council direction, staff sent out postcards to the community offering a free night of swimming. While 179 residents attended the swim night, the event also sparked a discussion amongst residents on social media saying there was a lack of aquatics programs at the pool.
Beside the low usage, the pool is also struggling to maintain a high cost recovery percentage. For 2017, total operating costs for the pool from June to August was $34,604 and only earned a total of $10,674 from its swim classes and programs, which places its cost recovery level at a low of 31 percent. This cost recovery percentage is significantly lower than that of Benicia and Honeybee pools, which together raked in around $115,073 this past year and both have a cost recovery level of over 50percent. It is important to note that Honeybee pool operates year-round, which can skew the data received as it will cost more money to operate, but could also generate more revenue and see more attendance then the two summer month pools.
As one M section resident, Anita Felton put it, “It’s like comparing apples to oranges.”
During the last summer swim season the City’s general funds shelled out $19 for the operation of the pool and the city workers estimate that if the pool had been closed this past summer, the general fund would have saved a whopping $23,900.
However, several residents who were concerned about the future of the pool, say that its struggles in keeping up attendance is due to the pool’s lack of various programs, its awkward evening hours of operation for free swim and the simple fact that some residents didn’t even know the pool existed. The general consensus from the hour long public hearing on the matter, it is that the pool should be given a fair chance at success before any consideration of its closure should be made. They were also concerned that if M pool were to close that the other pools would become too crowded, especially with the creation of two new housing developments
Dan, a Magnolia Avenue resident, pointed out that all pools have monetary loses at some point when looking at the analysis and that the importance of the pool to the community outweighs the importance of its monetary value.
“The presentation was a good analysis of what you’re really looking at, but if you look at the analysis, they’re all loss leaders, so what do you want to do, close them all? No, this is a benefit for all in the M section and I think you really need to communicate to the community… my wife and I and grandkids have been going to Magnolia pool for many many years,” he said. “And just today we found out they supposedly had swimming all summer.” He also suggested that the city put out a community survey asking when the best hours of operation for the pool would be in order to foster more community use.
Another M section resident Anita R., echoed Dan’s thoughts, making note that every community feature may not be a money maker, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still important to the community.
“Every feature that the community utilizes is not something that is going to be a moneymaker. This is something that we need for our recreation… it’s not necessarily going to make money but it is very important to the community and we don’t have any problem paying our tax dollars to keep the pool open,” she said.
Other resident ideas to increase use for the pool, include, letting kids from the YMCA at University Elementary School use the pool for a public swim period instead of having to bus to them to pools further away.
One young girl Maddie spoke with her mother in favor or making efforts to save the pool and also mentioned its awkward hours, saying by the time her and her friends bike over to the pool the swim period is almost half way over. The pair also suggested the city host a movie night at the pool to attract more people and to overall include more programs that are family friendly.
Following the copious amounts of public comments on the matter, input from city council was heard. Council member Jake Mackenzie expressed that he wanted to keep all three pools open. “It’s an investment in the community,” Mackenzie said.
Council member Gina Belforte said of the pools shortfalls and said she did not want to close the pool, “When I look at I think we’ve done a very poor job and I’m not anywhere near making a decision about closing M pool. It is not something I want to look at.”
The next step for the agenda item is for city staff will bring back ideas to the next meeting of how to revamp the pool and how to better analyze its use. Mayor Stafford also suggested that staff look at the aquatics programs and attendance of other cities pools in order to get a more concise analysis.
Vice Mayor Joseph Callinan said simply of the matter, “To keep the pool open is a no-brainer.”