A new swimming pool, water slides and lazy river planned for Greenwood won’t make enough money to pay staff, buy supplies and pay for upkeep.
Greenwood has talked about building a new pool for decades, and officials, including the former parks director and city council members, have said for more than 10 years that pools with extra features such as water slides earn enough money to cover the operating costs.
That won’t be the case for Greenwood’s proposed aquatic center. Pool engineering firm Counsilman-Hunsaker of St. Louis studied Greenwood’s current plans for an aquatic center and told the city that the expenses for staff, chlorine and maintenance would cost about $200,000 more per year than what it would bring in from daily passes, memberships and pool rentals for parties.
On top of that, the city would have to pay $400,000 to $600,000 in startup costs that weren’t budgeted for, city council member Bruce Armstrong said.
Now, the city council will have to decide whether it wants to recruit private companies as sponsors to help pay annual pool expenses, cut costs elsewhere in the city so it can afford to run the aquatic center, scale back the project or drop it entirely, Mayor Mark Myers said.
The city has spent $476,151 so far on the designs for the aquatic center, which is planned for Freedom Park off Averitt Road.
“At this point, I don’t know who let it get out of control,” Armstrong said. “I would love to know the answer to that.”
In 2012, a pool committee, including council members and residents, was formed and was asked to come up with three plans for a pool. They were supposed to consider a standalone pool, an aquatic center with a lazy river and an alternative with amenities somewhere between the two, Armstrong said.
The council also asked that the project be self-sustaining financially, he said. Greenwood’s 55-year-old former pool was demolished in 2012 due to safety concerns, such as crumbling concrete in the bathhouses. The city park board also was concerned about the pool costing taxpayers between $30,000 and $54,000 a year during the final five years it was open.
The pool committee decided replacing the city’s old lap pool with a new one wouldn’t be self-sustaining like an aquatic center would be. Pool committee members, including city council member Thom Hord and resident Karl Kreck, spoke with managers of aquatic centers across Indiana in 2012 and said an aquatic center not only could break even but also could possibly earn money for Greenwood.
The committee used Plainfield’s aquatic center as its primary example, saying that pool park earned enough money to fund other projects in the town, city council member Ezra Hill said.
The Greenwood Redevelopment Commission approved paying up to $10 million for the construction of a new aquatic center with tax-increment financing money after a poll of residents showed that 60 percent of the population would oppose a referendum to pay for a new pool.
Whether the pool would pay for itself was discussed by the commission and park board. In 2012, redevelopment commission president R. Lee Money raised concerns about whether daily pool admission, season passes and concession sales could cover operating expenses such as salaries. He later resigned from the board after council members told him they were uncomfortable with him questioning the proposal to pay for the pool.
The pool committee, made up of people named by the city council who had no experience with planning or managing pools, misunderstood information about the profitability of other aquatic centers in Indiana, Myers said.
For example, committee members spoke with the aquatic center manager in Plainfield, who thought the town’s pool was a moneymaker, but they should have talked to the town manager or clerk-treasurer about the finances instead, he said.
The Plainfield aquatic center actually isn’t self-sustaining and gets funding from a food and beverage tax, he said.
“(The committee) didn’t know the right questions to ask,” Myers said.
None of the committee members had experience in developing pools, so in retrospect, the city should have hired a company to do the research instead, Hill said.
What happens next isn’t clear, but the mayor has asked the city council to find a way to pay for the pool park’s expected annual loss.
The pool was scheduled to open in May 2015, but it’s possible the city council might shelve the project if it can’t be designed to break even financially, Hill said.
Greenwood didn’t study the costs of operating the pool sooner because the designs weren’t completed and the city was hoping an agreement with the YMCA would have come together by now, city attorney Krista Taggart said. The city wants the YMCA to manage the pool, and if the organization had committed to doing so sooner, then the YMCA would have done the study, she said.
In recent months, in preparation for finalizing the aquatic park designs and accepting bids from contractors to build it, Greenwood controller Adam Stone started estimating the costs of hiring lifeguards and buying the equipment the city would need for running the aquatic center that’s been designed.
The mayor realized the city needed to bring in an expert to calculate the income and expenses instead, since Stone had no experience with operating a pool, he said.
The city hired Counsilman-Hunsaker in January to study the aquatic center designs and estimate how much it would cost to operate, considering the price of having at least 20 lifeguards on duty at a time and other expenses. The new aquatic center’s income is projected to be about $460,000 by 2018 and its operating costs would be about $600,000. The estimated operating costs don’t include money for maintenance and repairs, equaling a total annual loss of $200,000 at a minimum, Myers said.
“Even if we cut back the design, it will not fund itself,” the mayor said.
Eliminating amenities, such as the lazy river, might not help the pool park be self-sufficient because it also will cut attendance and income, Stone said.
Cutting spending by the city to make up for losing money on the aquatic center doesn’t make sense, since the city has worked over the past few years to make up for past overspending, Hill said. For example, the city hasn’t consistently hired full-time police officers and firefighters and has looked to tax-increment financing district money to buy police cars.
“There’s no way I could support that right now,” he said. “The city doesn’t have any room to cut the budget, really.”
A study from St. Louis-based Counsilman-Hunsaker, a pool engineering company, estimated the following for the Greenwood aquatic center, if it opened in 2015:
Maintenance and repair budget