Janesville47.9°

Existing pools at center of aquatics debate

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Ann Fiore
October 7, 2007
— Steve Mara thinks he’s one lucky guy to have the job he has.

On this particular morning, Mara is draining water from the women’s showers at Rockport Pool.


The sun is warm, and it feels like summer—except the pool is too quiet. The swimmers who splashed in the wading pool, 50-meter main pool and diving pool all summer are sitting in school desks. The main pool’s water is green with algae, a sign it’s ready to be closed for the season.


Mara, a city property technician and electrician, enjoys the routine of opening and closing Rockport Pool. It’s a job he’s done every spring and fall since the pool opened in 1980. Over the next few weeks, he’ll finish winterizing the plumbing, service the pumps, clean the chlorinators and plug the water-exchange valves in the dive pool.


“I love this pool. It’s very easy to set up and take down,” he said, motioning to the 50-meter pool, one of a handful of pools in the state that aren’t part of aquatic facilities.


Rockport Pool, as well as Palmer Park wading pool and Lion’s Beach, lie at the heart of a discussion about the future of aquatics in Janesville. The two pools are in fair shape now but are aging rapidly.


A resident committee has discussed sites and costs for more than a year. Its last recommendation called for spending $9 million on a facility at Palmer Park, a smaller facility at Rockport Park and splash pads at six other parks, including Riverside Park.


City Manager Steve Sheiffer has suggested a project maximum of $5 million, saying the city could fit that much into its debt service without a major tax increase.


In an interview, Sheiffer said he will complete his report to the committee after he gets cost estimates for maintaining the two pools for the next 10 years. Those numbers will be included in a range of options costing up to $5 million, he said.


Rockport attendance


The question is, how much does Janesville use its largest pool?


City figures show attendance has seesawed over the last 10 years, from a low of 17,500 in 2004 to 32,240 this summer. Many factors influence how many people use the pool, perhaps one of the biggest being the weather.


Mara remembers the early years when the road to Rockport Pool was lined with cars.


That doesn’t happen anymore, but Mara’s observations tell him Rockport still had a good summer. The parking lot was consistently full until the rains of early August, and groups of competitive swimmers used the main pool every morning.


The city’s numbers appear to confirm that. More people visited Rockport Pool this summer than in any year since 1998.


“It was pretty nice to see,” Mara said.


By comparison, Fort Atkinson’s pool brought in 33,984 swimmers, and Edgerton’s pool drew an unofficial 23,730.


Sheiffer said future attendance must figure into the aquatics discussion. Only about 15 percent of residents are expected to use an aquatics facility, he said, and the swimming season runs about 78 days.


Maintenance issues


Rockport Pool has aged gracefully in some ways. The concrete is in good shape, and so are many of the pipes, Mara said. But the pool was built in 1980 with a life expectancy of 20 years.


It’s now 27 years old.


The tile near the shower room floor is cracked. The diving pool has a leak that needs fixing. Mara’s biggest concern is the boiler, whose exterior is rusting badly from dampness and chlorine exposure. He taps one of the stacks, and the brown metal crumbles instantly.


“I’ve got my fingers crossed for the boiler,” he said.


Janesville spends far more to operate Rockport Pool than it receives in revenue. So far this year, the city has spent more than $138,000. Revenue came in at about $24,000. Aquatics facilities in Fort Atkinson and Edgerton also receive city subsidies, but they are smaller than Janesville’s.


Over the years, Mara has tried to work within the maintenance budget the city provides. The city has been proactive about saving money, he said, installing a Pulsar chlorinating system that uses chlorine tablets instead of the more expensive—and dangerous—chlorine gas.


But Bonnie Davis, city recreation director, said expenses would keep climbing. Davis foresees repairs to or replacement of the boiler, water softener, surge tank, filter tanks and piping, among other things.


Personally, Davis wants to see a new aquatics facility in Janesville. The city needs more than water, she said. It needs amenities such as slides and a zero-depth entry pool.


“I want to see an aquatics facility built in town, but I want to see it built in the right place. I want it the right size. I want the right number of amenities, and I want it safe and affordable,” she said.


“Something has to happen if (the pool) remains at Rockport. There will have to be a major renovation,” Davis said.


Mara predicts the pool might need a backup boiler for next year. A new one would start at $13,000, not including the labor to install it, according to the catalogs Mara keeps in the boiler room.


In any case, he thinks the city could keep Rockport Pool running a few more years.


“I always said we could run this place indefinitely, cross our fingers,” he said. “But like someone’s furnace or automobile, someday something is going to fail. But we can try to run it effectively until then.”


As Sheiffer sees it, the main issue in the aquatics debate is the need for maintenance and repairs to the existing pools, not the need for a new facility.


“It’s not about if there will be a water park,” he said, “but what is the appropriate level of aquatics facilities that are necessary and the community can afford.”



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