PAYETTE — One question on the minds of the Payette City Council is when they will be ready to reopen the Payette Public Pool. At its regular meeting on June 15, councilors found that the answer is still unknown.
Under the provisions of Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s reopening plan following novel coronavirus COVID-19 shutdowns in late March, increased cleaning of facilities is prescribed under state guidelines. According to City Clerk Mary Cordova, the requirements are estimated to cost the city $123,411 to run the pool from July through September. The requirements also call for the city to hire a dedicated pool manager, a task which puts increased pressure on the municipality’s budget.
“We still need to purchase some plexiglass for the front desk down the two sides going into the locker rooms, we need to purchase gloves, disinfectant, sanitizer and masks for employees,” said Cordova. “Those figures are actually adding in a manager position, which we didn’t budget for this year but if we’re going to do this we need to have.”
According to Cordova, the pool continues to operate at a loss to the city when it is open, even though summer tends to be its largest revenue period.
Councilor Kathy Patrick asked about the possibility of bringing in volunteers to help with cleaning and sanitizing, stating she knows several individuals interested in helping out. Cordova said liability for such volunteers would require review before approving their help, due to the chemicals involved.
Patrick recalled that on a recent trip to Roaring Springs Water Park in Meridian, she observed very frequent cleaning of restroom facilities.
“In the women’s bathroom they do have an attendant and every time you use the restroom, or you wash your hands, that person goes in and cleans behind you,” she said. “I asked about that and they said that’s what the state told us we had to do to open.”
The subject of amenities was another topic in their sanitation discussion. When asked about whether to close off access to lockers, Cordova said staff would have to figure that out.
Another concern the council addressed was the possibility of low turnout this season.
“I don’t think it’s going to be as well-attended as it has in the past,” said Patrick, citing parental concerns.
“I would think that your aerobics people and your lap swimmers are going to be the same people that we’ve always,” said Mayor Jeff Williams. “But the kids and parents, I tend to agree.”
Councilor Daniel Lopez questioned whether the increased costs due to the pandemic are justified.
“With the parameters set, I don’t believe there’s any way to get around what the Governor’s put on it; If you’re going to open, you have to keep all the public spaces clean, too, and after every use. And that’s the issue here is the fiscal responsibility,” said Lopez. “Is it really responsible to spend double the amount that we would normally do, just to have the pool open?”
Lopez said he hoped this would still be a temporary protocol until the pandemic ends.
Even with the concern for how reopening the pool will affect the city’s budget for the coming year, Councilor Lori Steiniker says the money saved not having to rescue a child drowning in a nearby waterway justifies the cost of reopening.
“I think the cost of a little kid drowning in the river because he doesn’t know how to swim is more expensive than this cost,” said Steiniker.
Williams relayed community support for doing so.
“I had [a regular patron] say, ‘I don’t care about the kids, just let us back in,’” said Williams. “That is what they told us, ‘I don’t care about anybody but us.’ And it’s not just social, it’s medical.”
Councilors also discussed citizens’ comments raised previously, citing the pool’s potential benefit to those with physical ailments who benefit from aquatic exercise.
Williams agreed, pointing out that fiscal discipline isn’t all about showing off ability to save a buck here or there.
“I’d hate to not open because … do we get into the habit of that? Then ‘We saved a lot of money, look how much we’re saving the taxpayers!’ I think it’s an amenity that we all love. Do we all use it? I don’t think so.”
Councilor Mike Kee suggested reducing hours to cut costs to be able to meet the Governor’s requirements.
Steiniker suggested opening each of the indoor and outdoor pools for different groups to meet distancing requirements.
There would be at least one amenity the pool would not be able to offer this summer: Kids won’t be able to do cannonballs, flips off the diving board, as it would have to be closed.
“I don’t know what the answer is,” admitted Williams. “But it’s a lot of money, a lot more management, and probably just reinforces why we need to have a pool. It’s just more important than ever before. And it was really important before!”
The consensus among councilors: Open it up and see what happens.
One date tossed around was July 6. City Clerk Mary Cordova, however, said this isn’t likely due to the need to hire and train lifeguards, purchase protective equipment and plan for cleaning protocols.
With work yet to be finished, no tentative date for reopening was available as of press time.