Finding a cool place to escape the summer heat is harder for Stevens County residents than it has been in the past, as two of the three pools in the county have closed in recent years.
In 2013, both Chewelah and Kettle Falls were forced to close their pools due to funding issues. Only Colville has been able to keep up with the financial demand of maintaining and operating their 70 year old pool.
All three pools were built during the 1950s and 60s and have recently begun to experience structural and mechanical issues.
The Chewelah pool, originally built in 1968, closed in 2013 both due to a leak and an inability for the city to maintain the operating costs.
Mayor Dorothy Knauss, who served on a Pool Advisory Committee under former Mayor Clancy Bauman, said the committee determined the costs for fixing the leak and making the bathrooms ADA compliant were high.
“The pool was leaking 2500 gallons of treated water per day. Our group researched grants to repair the pool and estimates were between $300,000 - $400,000, plus the guarantee that we would continue to operate it for 50 years. This did not include any work to the shower rooms, nor plans to make the facility ADA compliant,” Mayor Knauss shared. “We paid $6,770 to Pool World for 2 separate studies in 2013.”
Annual operating costs for the 35 x 75 foot Chewelah pool averaged $38,455 per year but revenue for the pool only came in at roughly $12,000.
Due to the significant cost to repair the structure, Mayor Knauss said the City has made the decision to remove the pool.
“The City has made the decision to remove the current pool when time permits – possibly as early as 2016,” said Mayor Knauss, who said she floated the idea of raising funds for an aquatic center to replace the pool, but there was not enough interest to pursue the idea.
While the Kettle Falls pool has also been closed since 2013, citizen efforts towards funding the pool and an interest in the city to reopening the facility mean it will not be removed anytime soon, according to City Administrator Dave Keeley. Keeley said the city also invested in a new furnace shortly before the pool’s closure in 2013.
“The issue was funding to keep the pool open,” said Keeley. “When the state voted to privatize liquor, we lost those revenue dollars and that meant we had to make a lot of hard choices, including laying off a policeman.”
If an effort to find a new source of funding for the pool, some Kettle Falls community members are running a “Float the Pool” campaign to gather enough signatures to ask the Stevens County Commissioners to approve putting a Kettle Falls Parks and Recreation District on the ballot. The District would act as a separate taxing district to fund pool operations only, instead of funding the pool from the city’s general budget. A similar petition was circulated last summer and the signatures were presented to the Stevens County Commissioners this spring, but the Commissioners chose to alter the petition request to limit the taxing district to only include the City of Kettle Falls limits. The petitioners, who had asked for a larger taxing district to support the $50,000 annual cost of pool operations, were frustrated with the Commissioner’s decision and are making another effort to gain signatures for a second petition.
So for those hoping to take swim lessons or have a lifeguard-attended place to take the kids this summer, Colville is the only option.
Colville, like Kettle Falls and Chewelah, has also had challenges with its circa 1954 pool, including a leak that was repaired with the addition of a pool liner in the early 2000s.
Colville Recreation Coordinator Jake Wilson said grants and donations helped the city afford the cost of the liner, which has a 20 year or more lifespan.
“The liner looks really good, but at this point our next item is the filtration system which just had its 70 year anniversary, so we are encouraging the City Council to prepare for that expense,” said Wilson, who noted upgrading the filtration system may cost as much as $100,000.
Operating expenses for the Colville pool average $88,000 a year, with pool revenue logging in at around $21,000. The pool facilities include the 60 x 30 foot pool, a 30 x 25 shallow pool and a wading pool outside.
In addition to hosting swim lessons and the Colville Sharks Swim team, the Colville pool is also open for use Monday through Friday. One former Colville Swim team member, Emma Schantz, was recently accepted onto the UCLA swim team. Her brother, Dylan, also a former Colville Shark, swims for St. Cloud University in Minnesota.
Wilson said one of the primary reasons the pool stays open is support from the city council.
“The City has been very supportive of the pool and wants to keep it open,” he said.
Higher annual revenues to the City of Colville also make the cost of subsidizing the pool more feasible for that city. In 2013, Colville drew $11.8 million in revenue, compared to the $4.7 million collected by Chewelah and $3.3 million by Kettle Falls, according to the Washington State Auditor.
However, despite the financial challenges, some communities are continuing to fight for the future of their pool. The Kettle Falls “Float the Pool” Committee will be holding a meeting with the Stevens County Commissioners on July 20 at 4 p.m. The committee will ask the Commissioners to revise their resolution so the community can vote on the creation of a recreation taxing district to support the Kettle Falls pool. The meeting will be held in the Commissioner’s Hearing room at 215 S. Oak in Colville. The meeting is open to the public.
By Jamie Henneman, The Independent Staff
In This Photo: ÂÂ The Chewelah city pool has sat empty and unused since 2013, due to budgetÂÂ cuts. Jamie Henneman photo