COLUMBIA - Swimmers and sunbathers at Lake of the Woods Pool said they're disappointed by a city proposal to close the pool next year to save money.
Matthew Pierce, 9, took the news with a furrowed brow, pausing midway through his Rocket Popsicle on Friday afternoon to ask if it were really true. He said he would be upset if the pool closes.
"It's so small; she can keep an eye on us the whole time," he said, gesturing toward his mother, Rebecca Pierce. She agreed with her son.
"I'd hate to see it go. I really would," Pierce said. "It has been a great family experience."
City Manager Bill Watkins listed the closing of Lake of the Woods Pool next summer as one of several cuts in the "squeaky" budget for fiscal 2009. Closing the pool would save the city about $13,000, or 0.00005 percent of the total proposed operating budget of $256.6 million.
Pierce and her family began visiting the facility this summer when they bought a house down the road. She said that she and her husband were planning to buy a pool themselves until they found the aquatic center at Lake of the Woods.
"We're here every day, except when it rains," she said. Melanie Karrick has frequently used the pool on the city's east side for the past six or seven years. She thinks closing it would be a mistake.
"The pool has the feel of a smaller neighborhood pool. It's well-run, calm and family-oriented," she said. "And it's the only one on this side of town."
Karrick's daughter, Michaela, 7, said she would miss the slides and ice cream at Lake of the Woods and would want to swim at Stephens Lake if the pool closes. Her mother, however, said she preferred the pool's staff of lifeguards.
"There's definitely a sense of security here," she said.
Expenses such as lifeguards, concessions and maintenance contributed to the recommendation from the Parks and Recreation Department staff that the pool be closed, recreation services manager Gary Ristow said. The pool's revenue last summer covered only 38 percent of its costs. Ristow said that when the staff looks for possible cuts, it homes in on the most heavily subsidized programs. They consider other factors as well. That led to the recommended closing at Lake of the Woods and to proposed elimination of the Adaptive Recreation Program at Paquin Tower. The latter idea would save the city an estimated $88,000.
"The pool may just be closed for a year," Ristow said, citing the recent economic downturn as the driving force behind the cuts.
Cindy Squire of Murry, which is northeast of Columbia, worried about what a year without proper maintenance would do to the pool.
"If they shut it down for a year, there could be cracking problems," she said. "Also, frogs and snakes and things like that could get in."
Squire added that the pool's location near the city/county line draws people from outside Columbia. "Tons of folks come from the fringes to use this area," she said. "It's a nice facility and it's shaded."
Attendance at Lake of the Woods lagged last summer, attracting the lowest number of patrons in the past five years. According to the Parks and Recreation 2007 annual report, the pool brought in a total of 3,502 people last year, compared with 5,486 people in 2003.
Monica Melton, another of Friday's pool patrons, said attendance fluctuates. She said she had seen three large groups of children there Friday, but noted that the low attendance levels earlier in the year were too low for the pool to remain open.
"No one was here, and they need at least 10 people to keep it open," she said.