Aquatic center among pools to remain closed
Due to health restrictions still required in Ohio for pools after May 31, the Marietta Aquatic Center will not reopen in 2020.
“This was an extremely tough decision,” said Marietta Safety-Service Director Steve Wetz Wednesday after the public announcement. “We’ve been talking about it for a month and initially we told Tanner (Huffman, public facilities foreman) that we’d like to get the pool into a standby stage, get it ready for Mike Bishman and the needed chemicals.”
Bishman owns Professional Pool Management, the contracted private business which operates and manages several local community pools each summer in both Ohio and West Virginia. He has operated under a city contract for several years to manage and staff the Marietta Aquatic Center, including spring training of lifeguards.
That training was canceled by the American Red Cross on March 4, before the state stay-at-home order was issued by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Limited classes may soon resume, Bishman said.
But the limits of capacity, including spacing individuals in and out of the pool, would prove unprofitable for the city when weighed with the costs to staff, clean and run the city-owned asset, said Wetz.
“Normally people stand three feet apart when talking, but we’d have to cut our patronage in half to meet the state mandates for distancing,” said Wetz.
The financial strain a public pool puts on a municipality may prove too much for local pools to return without prioritized investment this year and looking ahead to the 2021 summer season.
Belpre Mayor Mike Lorentz announced last month that Belpre’s pool would not open this summer, saying the limited time they might be able to operate it wouldn’t justify the cost.
Lowell Mayor Steve Weber said last week the village won’t be opening its pool either, also citing a limited window to operate. Instead, they will repair some leaks and get it ready for next year.
In Beverly, Mayor Jim Ullman said the city is preparing to reopen park facilities, including the pool, by doing a lot of required maintenance.
“It takes a month to get the pool set up, so we have completed the maintenance except filling the pool, so instead of a month it will take three days to become operational,” he said.
Ullman said the pool benches will be placed in a manner to adhere to social distance requirements and any guidelines set by state officials will be implemented and followed.
In Marietta, the aquatic center will instead see a summer of long-needed maintenance, according to Wetz.
Meanwhile, the employment of teenagers and young adults will be limited this season, as will be the social benefits not quantified in dollar figures.
“Physical exercise does something for your mental health, too,” said Bishman. “Typically there at Marietta we have around 45 employees total and some (employees) start off right at 15 getting their lifeguard certification and also working concessions.”
Bishman said the employment opportunity for teens can last seven to eight years.
“We get what we call our all stars, they’ve worked with us through high school and sometimes into college and then have gone one to be nurses, lawyers and other great members of our communities,” he explained.
Marietta City Councilman Bill Farnsworth also expressed concern for where the children of low-income families will go this summer without the social support of the pool.
“I know spending time at the community pool when I was 10-12 years old was a formative part of learning to make relationships and gain some independence,” he said. “I hope the local organizations and churches can come up with more activities for families and children like their vacation Bible schools and can step up during this time to serve.”
Wetz said the summer program for children the city annually runs with Washington County Job and Family Services is still under review by the city.
Madeline Scarborough and Evan Bevins contributed to this story.
Janelle Patterson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.