The Palm Coast City Council today agreed on a plan to keep Frieda Zamba pool at the city’s aquatic center open year-round as an interim measure before the city has the money to rebuild the aquatic center, presumably with a 50-meter pool as opposed to the non-Olympic 25-meter version in place now.
Expanding the hours would cost more, but not that much more: $137,000 at today’s estimates, not including additional $35,000 revenue year-round operations would bring in, thus bringing down the extra cost of going year-round to $102,000. That’s assuming the city kept fees–which are relatively low–at current levels. A modest fee increase, which the council could well agree to, would further reduce the additional costs.
The city is also working with the school district to ensure that swimmers will have access either to the city’s pool or to the district’s pool at the nearby Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club, seven days a week. The district and the city are both in the same boat. Both their facilities are old, in need of a lot of repair, and incapable of staying open seven days a week. The district just opted to cut its hours by more than a quarter. But the district and the city would make sure that one of the two pools will be open on all seven calendar days, “so everyone has a chance to swim seven days a week here in palm Coast,” James Hirst, the city’s outdoor recreation manager, said.
The new schedule would begin October 1, enabling the city to continue its aquatic programs year-round. It is a relatively simple change that may have outsized benefits to a large number of swimmers, who for years have been wading through uncertainties or incomplete hours from both the district and the city.
People addressing the council during the opening public-comment segment almost all focused on the pool issue. But rather than merely repeat a mantra–give us a better pool, keep it open all year–the number of people who spoke opened each in their own way a window into the considerable variety of users and uses of the city’s two pools, both at Frieda Zamba and the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club–older people who see the pools as the lifeline to their longevity, younger people who use them for competitions, a safety organization that depends on them to offer its services. The more they spoke, the more they underscored–without necessarily saying it–the need for facilities better suited to a municipality with a population now around 100,000.
Mayor David Alfin sees the future of the city’s aquatic center as a two-step process. The first step is to return to a year-round pool schedule, “to offer the fullest amenity available to the largest number of people,” with the understanding that it would be only a short-term fix. The second step would be “the dream–and I’m sure would be shared by city council–that the city of Palm Coast have a loud and proud aquatic center that fulfills all of our residents’ needs in a timely fashion.” (See: “Palm Coast’s Belle Terre Park and Frieda Zamba Pool Need ‘Total Rebuild,’ But Council Is Wary of Another Expansion.”)
The council has agreed to add the improvement of its aquatic facility in its long-term goals, or strategic plan.
The 25-yard pool with eight lanes, heated primarily in April and October and November, used to be open before the Great Recession. It was reduced to seasonal schedule as a money-saving measure. On March 3 the recreation department hosted a community meeting to discuss pool issues. What it heard was no surprise: a desire for a year-round facility, and a better pool. Last year the pool drew 352 pass-holders broken down between monthly, quarterly and seasonal passholders, with prices ranging from $25 to $45 for a monthly pass to $120 to $250 for a seasonal pass (individual versus family passes), with daily admissions of between $3 and $4, and twilight admissions, for those who just want a quick swim before nightfall, between $1.50 and $2.
The pool every year opens in early April and closes by mid-November. In spring (April 4 to May 27) it opens only on weekdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday hours are added when school is out, according to the plan Hirst and Brittany McDermott, a community recreation manager, presented to the council at a workshop this morning.
The year-round plan would have the pool open five days a week, November through March, in tandem with Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club hours.
The costs: Seasonal operations at the city pool this year will cost $457,000, rising to a projected $464,000 next year. To run the pool year-round, the cost would add $137,000 to the budget, for a total cost of $601,000. On the other hand, the city is drawing $65,000 in revenue this year with a seasonal schedule. Should it keep the facility open year-round, McDermott estimates revenue to rise to $100,000, since entry fees, rental revenue and programming could all increase income–as could a higher fee set by the council. That $35,000 in additional revenue would bring the net additional cost down to just over $100,000.
The numbers and the council’s decision–no vote was taken, but it’s expected next week–was welcome news to the people who’d already addressed the council on the subject.
One resident said that closing the pool for months of the year is more fit for a pool in Vermont than in Florida. “People cannot travel to St. Augustine to a 50-meter pool, they cannot travel to Ormond’s YMCA 25 miles away to swim,” he said. It’s time for the city to get rid of antiquated pools. Not deep enough for competitive swimming. falling apart.”
An almost 80-year-old member of the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club for 13 years, spoke of the school district’s recent decision to abbreviate the hours at the club. “That’s very sad for us because like people like myself, I go every day and that’s my livelihood, to stay alive and in good health,” he said, asking the city to reconsider its aquatic center’s hours and future. He was followed by an 83-year-old man who attributed his good health to swimming. Another–slightly younger–resident proposed taking over the Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club before asking the council to consider building a 50-meter pool.
Brielle Goldberg, executive director of WaterSafe Inc., a local non-profit focused on drowning prevention, holds its annual safety event at Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club (it’s coming up on May 21), and teaches swim lessons at the club, providing no-cost lessons to 225 children last year there. The organization has had anxiety about its ability to use the club in the future. “Swim lessons can prevent drowning up to 80 percent and it’s important that children have a place in our town where they can learn year round,” Goldberg said. “So having somewhere where children can go and learn how to swim not just in the summer months is extremely important, but also having the education to go year-round so children know they have a place to go.”
A filmmaker who works with the Palm Coast-based Synchro Belles, the synchronized swimming team, spoke of the team’s struggle dealing with pool availability and pool depth, both of which are limited at its usual home at the Swim and Racquet Club. “This is one of the teams that really needs a better schedule, better pool,” she said. And a deaf person formerly employed at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind as a psychologist–she retired nine years ago–spoke of swimming every other day (“it’s like my best friend”) to counteract two heart conditions. She swims at Belle Terre Swim and Racquet Club because Frieda Zamba is too busy.
“At this point before we come up with anything new,” Council member Eddie Branquinho said, “the least we could do for these people over here that came, it’s to go from the seasonal to year-round. I think that’s the least we could do, because they deserve more. Can we do more right now? I don’t know.” He was also hoping for cooperation with the school district. City Manager Denise Bevan said she regularly meets with Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt. Cooperating on pool operations has been one of the topics of discussion, she said.
“Our immediate options are limited in how we can provide payment for an aquatic center,” Council member Nick Klufas said. “This is something that is within the realm of possibilities for us to provide some type of immediate, positive impact to our swimming community.”
View the discussion on the future of the city’s Aquatic Center: