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How expensive is it to run a swimming pool?

For the last couple of days, I’ve been writing about swimming pools at community colleges. Annually, a growing list of community colleges determine that the cost of operating a pool is too rich for their budgets. This isn’t limited to community colleges; a lot of communities are doing the math before committing to continued swimming pool operations.

For example, a community survey in Liberty Lake, WA found that most survey respondents supported the idea of a community swimming pool. The City Council considered the findings in the context of other publicly funded recreation options. To build a laned swimming pool would run the city anywhere between $850,000 and $3.2M, depending on the size of the pool. The estimates did not include the other spaces, like locker rooms, spectator seating, and other areas that would either be necessary or desirable in a pool complex.

But building a pool is only one element of the cost. The operation and maintenance (O&M) must also be considered, along with the revenue generation potential of a pool. The city determined that a pool could potentially generate between $175,000 and $667,000, again depending on the size of the pool and its frequency of operation.

As a point of comparison, the city looked at the pool operations of Lake Othello, a neighboring community. In 2012, Lake Othello operated a community pool at a loss of $93,000. The actual revenues for the pool operation were 95% of what the City anticipated. The pool’s expenses exceeded the budget by about 2.8%. The problem is that the revenues from the pool only covered about 40% of the pool’s administrative and operational costs. In 2013, Lake Othello operated its pool at a loss of $108,600.

How long can a swimming pool lose money?

Even though revenues increased in for Lake Othello 2013, the expenses increased even more. The pool needed a repair that exceeded the facility’s repair budget by more than 360%. Over the course of just two years, the pool at Lake Othello operated at a $200,000 loss. Another local recreation facility in Lynnwood with both indoor and outdoor pools generated $2.7M in revenues, with O&M costs of nearly $5.4M. The Lynnwood facility generates just half of what it costs to operate the facility each year.

Pools are expensive, and the larger the pool, the larger the loss. All of the community colleges I have written about in the last few days have come to the same conclusion: it is not possible to break even on the operation of a public pool – much less turn a profit. Unexpected repairs, the high cost of labor,

What is the likelihood that WCC’s swimming pools operate in the black? (More to the point, what is the likelihood that the pools have ever operated in the black? How long can the college afford to divert operational dollars intended for education to pay for swimming pool expenses instead? How many expensive repairs to the pool(s) can WCC afford each year? And why did the Trustees authorize this boondoggle in the first place?

Photo Credit: Purple Slog, via Flickr