By Sandy Scarmack
Herald Staff Writer
It all comes down to simple math. There isn’t enough money to open the pool in Brandy Springs Park for the summer swimming season.
“I hated to do it. There wasn’t a one of us that wanted to close it, but there isn’t enough money to make payroll and there are so many other things, more important things, that the park needs, that we decided not to open the pool this summer,” said Cory Masson, president of the park’s board of directors.
The board voted 7 to 2 to close the pool.
Attendance and operational costs were the deciding factors, he said. It costs about $25,000 a year to open the pool from Memorial Day until the end of August. The pool has been losing about $20,000 a year for the last several years, he added.
“That’s not being a good steward of people’s money. I can’t justify keeping it open.”
He said a “good day” at the pool might mean five to 10 swimmers. “But it’s never crowded, not unless someone rents the pool. And when you’re paying three lifeguards $7.25 an hour, you end up with a payroll of about $12,000 year,” Masson said.
Also, aesthetically, “it’s ugly,” he said. “The whole park needs a facelift. The facilities are old. You have to climb up these steel steps and go around a fence to get to the pool. The water is perfect, pH wise and all that, but there are some stains on the sides and it just doesn’t look good,” he said.
There are two pools in the park, but one has been closed for several years because it “has a major leak,” he said. The initial pool was installed in the 1950s and the second pool, a larger, 25-meter, pool was installed in 1977.
“We probably could technically keep it open, but there are just so many other things that need done. We need a new water system, and I’m looking at a new mower. If we changed out the water system, we could keep the bathrooms open all winter long. We also have a combination basketball and tennis court. We’d like to re-do the tennis court,” he said.
Masson said if more $100 season pool passes were sold, at least enough to meet payroll, there is a chance it could stay open. “ But I don’t want to promise that. No one has really said too much about it not opening, at least not yet. But the pool has been losing money for years and that just isn’t the way to operate,” he said.
He attributes the decline in the usage to an increase in the number of backyard pools that are around. “Everywhere you look people have those pools. And after working all day, parents don’t want to run their kid to the park pool. It’s easier to have it in the backyard,” he said.
“I grew up at the pool. I practically lived there, but that isn’t how it is anymore,” he said. He credits the pool staying open as long as it did to long-time supporter Annabelle Jones, a former board president and local attorney.
“She probably poured a half-million dollars of her own money into the pool to keep it going, over the years. People have no idea. She was the biggest reason it was open all those years,” he said.
“People think the money just comes pouring in. It doesn’t. It was a rough night, the night we decided to close the pool,” Masson said.
He said the board is looking at hiring an engineering firm to study the benefits of adding other water-based play areas. “I read about something called a Splash Spot in a Recreational Management magazine. It said some pools that put these in enhanced their pool usage greatly, but I have to see what the community wants,” he said.
If anyone wants to donate to keep the pool open or pay for future improvements, Masson said the money will be set aside in a separate account for the pool. Currently the operating money comes from a donation from the United Way of Mercer County, who last year cut the donation from $12,000 to $9,000, and from donations from Findley, Coolspring, Jefferson and East Lackawannock Townships as well as money raised from season pool pass sales.
Only 20 people bought season passes last year, Masson said.
The only other outdoor swimming pools are ones located in New Wilmington and Grove City. Greenville’s Memorial Pool was closed years ago, though community members have been tireless in their efforts to re-open the pool.
Donations to the pool or the park can be sent to Brandy Springs Park, P.O. Box 414, Mercer, Pa. 16137. Masson said he can be contacted for issues about the park at (724) 977-4306.