Olympic Aquatic Club hopes to create non-profit to run the Bremerton city pool

With the Glenn Jarstad Aquatic Center written out of the Bremerton city budget, Parks and Recreation is working against the clock to pass it to another manager.

Though the city has negotiated with the Kitsap Family YMCA to take over the pool in the last few weeks, the Olympic Aquatic Club is looking to rally community members to start a non-profit pool organization before the pool is dropped from the city books Sept. 1. The city loses more than $200,000 a year operating the pool.

Since patrons and community groups who use the pool found out about the city’s talks with the YMCA, a number of them have voiced objections to the potential of the pool’s handover, fearing increased fees, forced YMCA membership and decreased access for school and therapy groups.

Ed Hamilton, president of the Olympic Aquatic Club, a swim group that rents the pool, hopes to replicate a grassroots movement that saved a community pool in Poulsbo. But he must collect the money and community support before the Sept. 1 deadline.

“We need to know right now that we’re not too late,” Hamilton said. “There’s a strong concern, a strong interest in doing whatever we can to keep that pool open and accessible to the public.”

The Olympic Aquatic Club’s plan is to submit a proposal to the city in the next week for a non-profit management system at the Jarstad pool, which would be unaffiliated with the Aquatic Club. Details of the proposal have yet to be worked out, but Hamilton wants to include energy-saving measures to reduce the utility costs of the pool, like those implemented in Poulsbo.

In 2008, the North Kitsap Community Pool was slated for closure by the North Kitsap School District. A group of vocal community members raised $50,000 to keep the pool open a few more months. Since then, changes in staffing, hours and energy updates — including solar panels and high-efficiency lighting — have allowed the pool to remain open. The adjustments cut costs for the pool by $200,000 and increased earnings by $40,000.

“The community really stepped up and saved this pool,” said Jake DeVries, North Kitsap Community Pool coordinator. “I think definitely it can be replicated.”

The Olympic Aquatic Club met with city officials and the YMCA Wednesday to discuss the viability of a non-profit model and work out some details of the pool’s future.

Parks and Recreation Director Wyn Birkenthal said despite the Aquatic Club’s interest, the city is still moving forward with YMCA negotiations because of the pressure to hand over the pool in the next month and a half. The city will, however, do its best to keep the pool open to as many groups as possible and include them in discussions, he said.

Hamilton doubts that access for swim groups would remain the same if the YMCA were to take it over. While he said he is confident he can line up the number of people needed to operate the pool come September, he needs more time to collect enough money.

Ronn McMahon, vice president of financial development and marketing for YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, said it is hard to tell what the final terms of the YMCA’s pool management might be, but many of the patrons’ fears — such as increased fees — are unfounded.

“We don’t anticipate raised rates,” he said, adding that assistance would be available to those who can’t afford admission fees. “Whatever the structure is, it’s going to be available to everybody.”

And regardless of the terms, he said, a YMCA-managed pool is better than no pool at all.

“The Y wants to be part of this solution,” McMahon said. “We have to figure out a model that will work for everybody.”

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