Taft's swimming pool needs expensive repairs
Taft has been sweltering under 110-plus heat for much of the summer without a public swimming pool.
The Williams F. Thomas Aquatics Center at the Walter Glenn Natatorium was closed in 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic.
It has remained closed this year because the 84-year-old facility needs major repairs that the West Side Recreation and Park District can't afford to pay for.
Pipes under the pool have broken, electrical wiring in the pump room is aging.
Repair costs could top $1 million, district officials said
Repairing the pipes will require digging through the pool deck and is expected to cost several hundred thousand dollars by its self.
As if the costs of fixing the pool aren't enough, the operating costs of keeping the pool open during the summer months is a major drain on the district's budget, and district officials are pessimistic about the pools future even though they know its importance to the community.
"The pool is huge for us," District Administrator Les Clark III said. "We want to pool to be open to the community.
The district board, has said getting the district's finances back in order comes first. the district is in the third year of a five year plan to erase a structural deficit, and Clark said that's what the board's priority is.
If the board told us they wanted the natatorium to be our priority, then I would make it our priority'" clark
But finding a way to afford repair costs and then operating expenses is problematic.
"The cost is huge for us," District Administrator Les Clark III said.
He estimates its costs up to $100,000 annually to keep it open for three months each year, even if it can be fixed.
Clark said he's looking for funding sources, including grants and partnerships.
The district needs about seven lifeguards on duty, and, with minimum wage going up to $14 now and $15 at the start of 2021, costs will keep rising.
The $2 admission fee doesn't come close to covering costs, Clark said.
Board member Rick Jorgensen has seen the problems at the natatorium first-hand, including the rusting pipes that need replacing and the wiring problems.
"It's an absolute nightmare," he said. "The pool was opened in the 1930s and a lot of the pipes and electrical is just shot."
In the short-term, the district is looking at other pools in the area. It is already offering swim lessons at Midway School's pool, Clark said, and might start taking vans or buses to that pool and others like McKittrick or Maricopa.
Clark said he also wants to talk toTaft Union High School about using that pool for a summer swim program.
Both Clark and Jorgensen fear that simply fixing the current problems at the natatorium, which was opened in 1937, might not be enough.
Clark said he fears more repairs would be necessary in the next five to six years.
Jorgenson said he fears it could be a huge, ongoing expense.
"My duty is to protect the taxpayers money. Maybe we'd be better off starting from scratch and building a new pool."