Higher rates in store if YMCA takes over Bremerton pool

Veda Strong of Bremerton couldn't walk too well until about two weeks ago.

With a bad back and aching legs, her doctor advised that she exercise in the water. Now, after a couple weeks of swimming, she is able to walk all over Bremerton, campaigning to save the city pool that got her back on her feet.

The City of Bremerton, looking to fill a $2.5 million budget shortfall through the end of 2010, is negotiating with the Bremerton YMCA to hand over full-time management of the Glenn Jarstad Aquatic Center to the club.

But whether the YMCA takes it over, or it is closed, city officials said Bremerton is going out of the pool business.

Though the terms of the agreement are still being worked out, patrons and swimming group leaders are afraid the move would force city pool swimmers to join the YMCA, increasing the cost of access.

"Everything is so expensive and I don't think too many of us could afford it," said Strong, who pays $24 for punch cards that allow 10 visits. A senior YMCA membership would cost her $456 per year.

City officials do not yet know how long the YMCA would be contracted to manage the pool, nor what the new rates would be for swimmers. But the city - which makes back $200,000 after spending $418,000 a year on the pool - is looking to find a new caretaker of the pool by Sept. 1. The pool has been eliminated from the amended 2010 budget, which will be voted on by the City Council July 7.

The city would still own the pool. It will likely hand management to the YMCA for a limited number of years, Mayor Patty Lent said. Otherwise, the pool would close.

Dan Nohel of Bremerton, who helped open the pool in 1979, is leading the campaign to keep the pool out of YMCA hands. He wants the city to consider other options to keep it open. During a meeting with Lent and Parks and Recreation officials Monday, he asked the city to consider raising pool fees across the board, raising the minimum age for the senior discount and pursuing a non-profit organization. Aside from his fears of decreased access for community swim groups and physical therapy trainers, Nohel disagrees with the YMCA affiliation on principle.

"Why should you have to join a private club to swim in a public facility?" he said.

Nohel managed the pool during its first seven years, and he now uses it for physical therapy. He has suffered complex regional pain syndrome since breaking his left foot.

"I would not be walking without the pool," Nohel said.

Lent said it is too late to consider other alternatives to save the pool, given the dire circumstances of the budget.

"We've waited too long to get a grip on the revenue of this city," Lent said. "We can't do the things we've always wanted to do. The pool is the same way."

After all, the city has a history of working with the YMCA on pool costs, added Wyn Birkenthal, director of Parks and Recreation. Last year, when budget cuts forced the city to consider closing the Jarstad pool on weekends, it opted instead to have the YMCA pay for weekend lifeguard staffing for the rest of the year. In return, the city turned over earnings from those days.

Under that agreement, the YMCA spent $12,500 on lifeguard pay and received $6,500 in weekend admission dollars. The city saved $6,000 in its budget.

Nohel was joined by Sharon Stanley, physical therapist at Kitsap Physical Therapy, in saying that individual patrons and groups who rent the pool would probably be willing to spend more money to visit the pool, as long as they are not restricted by forced YMCA membership.

Birkenthal said swimmers would likely see fare increases, regardless of the final terms of the agreement. But maintaining the same level of access for groups, such as physical therapy and swim lesson classes, will be tough.

Attendees of Monday's meeting, including pool staff and patrons, said they felt shut out of the decision-making on the pool's future. But Lent said the budget gap made the moves necessary.

"We haven't left you out on purpose," she said. "It just became drastic."

The next meeting between the city and the YMCA is scheduled for next week.

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