The cost of cool

Wednesday, July 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:38 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
On a hot Tuesday afternoon, Lisa Nieder and her daughters, Brooke, 3, left, and Claire, 7, visit the newly renovated Douglass Pool. Despite renovations, the pool remains nearly empty. Lisa said she has never seen more than 10 or 15 people here at any one time.

Even though the dog days of summer are nearing full swing, the recently renovated pool at Douglass Park had only three swimmers at 3:15 on Tuesday afternoon, a sight pool employees say is common.

Despite having the state’s only pool climbing wall, a new filtering system and other improvements, the pool at Douglass Park has continued to struggle to attract swimmers.

by the numbers

$3.50: Admission for a person over the age of 16 3000: Average number of visitors for one summer season $1.00: Future price, down from the current $1.75, to swim during twilight hours

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“There are no hard numbers, but attendance is pretty typical compared to past years, which would put us around the 3,000 range for the summer,” said Columbia Parks and Recreation director Mike Hood. “It’s extremely hard to figure out why more people aren’t swimming there, especially with the renovations.”

Neighborhood residents visiting the park said it’s not that hard to figure out.

“$3.50? Forget it,” said Kevin Carter, a resident living near the park. “Why do you have to charge that much to go swimming? I can understand for adults, but for those little kids? You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

Admission is $3.50 for people age 16 and over.

At all city pools, including the one at Douglass, admission is $2.25 for people between the ages of 2 and 15, while those under age 2 get in free.

Fellow resident Mike Pennington agreed. “$3.50? That’s a McDonald’s meal, not swimming.”

Pool employee Nate Edwards said it is a common complaint among potential swimmers.

“A lot of people come here and ask how much it is, and then go ‘Are you kidding me?’ to the price,” Edwards said. “I certainly think it is the biggest reason more people don’t swim here.”

First Ward councilwoman Almeta Crayton understood the complaints.

“You gotta be able to afford it and low-income kids can’t afford it,” Crayton said. “($2.25) may not be a lot to you and me, but to a lot of these low-income kids, it’s too much.”

She acknowledged that there is no easy solution.

“Ideally they should charge nothing, but there is nothing to offset making it free, so it can’t be free,” Crayton said. “The money has to come from somewhere.”

Hood said the city has to keep consistent pricing at all its pools but is working on certain promotions to make Douglass more affordable, including improving its twilight hours and pricing.

“Starting probably this Saturday, twilight hours are going to start at 5 p.m. with the price of admission being lowered to $1.”

Currently, twilight hours start at 6 p.m. and cost $1.75.

While admitting they could always do more, Hood said the city has done all it can to get the word out about Douglass.

“We promote it through all avenues. We use our Leisure Times publication, our cable TV program. If people aren’t coming, it’s not because they don’t know about it. The pool has been here since 1938,” Hood said.

Hood also said the money set aside for financial assistance programs for people wanting to use the pool wasn’t used up last year.

“We had $35,000 set aside last year, and only $33,000 of it was even given out,” Hood said. “A lot of people who meet the criteria for assistance can basically swim at the pool for 44 cents a day, but it wasn’t used up.”

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