In the swim: Whitewater Aquatic Center finding financial fitness

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Saturday, March 1, 2014

WHITEWATER—When the Whitewater Aquatic Center opened in 2001, the center's nonprofit board made a deal with the school district and the city.

Both district and the city would each contribute $75,000 a year  to subsidize costs for running the center. Every two years after that, the center's board could ask for what was essentially a cost of living increase to help keep pace with rising costs.

But the board never asked—until recently. In the past month, board President Steve Ryan and aquatic center Director Paula Malone asked both entities to increase their contributions by $3,000.

“This last year, we thought we were going to break even, even be a little bit into the black, but then we had some capital needs,” Ryan said. “We had to drop our heads a little bit and ask for the money.”

Being so close to being in the black is part of a much longer success story that's partly about making innovative choices and partly about being stubborn.

“When we first opened the place, we had a study done that showed that we would be about $150,000 in the hole from day one,” said Ryan. “That's where that $75,000 figure came from.”

Several years into operations, the board had discussions with Mercy Health Systems and entered into a contract that allowed them Mercy to run the operation.

By 2008, however, the center was $289,000 in debt, and the board decided to take back the facility and “see what they could do.”

“We decided we were going to try to make it work without going back to the taxpayers,” Ryan said.

The center became a “guinea pig” for a plan by Carrico Aquatics Resources of Jefferson. The company incorporated ultraviolet technology to reduce the amount of chemicals used in the pool.

Usually, the by-products of chlorine are removed from pool areas by pulling in large amounts of outdoor air, heating or cooling it, and then circulating it through the building.

The ultraviolet system reduced the amount of air that had to be circulated.

Carrico also installed variable frequency drives—Ryan described them as “essentially dimmer switches”—for the pool pumps and other equipment, Ryan said. As a result, the center's utility bills dropped 35 percent.

Those changes brought the center out of debt. This year, the center looked on track to break even—until one of the pool pumps went out.

Meanwhile, the center has been exploring other ways to raise funds. The “Discover Whitewater” half marathon and 5K run raised money for five local organizations that support the community. 

The $5,000 the center received from the marathon went to pay for “Family Partnership Program” memberships. Those memberships, which are also supported by the Whitewater Kiwanis Breakfast Club, allow low-income families to join the center at a discount of 10 percent to 80 percent of the regular price.

Malone also is pursuing several grants that would fund second- and third-graders in the school district taking swim lessons at the pool.


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