Public Watchdog.org

They Close Lap Pools, Don’t They?

04.22.11

Last night the Park Ridge Recreation & Park District Board voted 6-1 finally to put Oakton Pool out of its misery rather than spend almost $100,000 on repairs just so it could re-open for the season…and, presumably, generate another whopping operating loss, as has been its custom the past several years.

Only Commissioner Mary Wynn Ryan voted to drag this battered shell of a facility through one more summer, voicing all the warm & fuzzy reasons that have kept it limping along under a “do not resuscitate” order while Commissioners Marty Maloney, Jim O’Brien and Rick Biagi spent the last couple/few years trying to recruit a fourth vote to put this old horse down and stop burning money that could be much better used elsewhere.

What did it take to get the Park Board to this point? Try a notification from the Cook County Department of Public Health that Oakton would not be licensed to open without some major repairs estimated at $94,000 – quite a jump up from Oakton’s customary pool-opening costs of around $12,000. And spending that money would not have guaranteed that Oakton Pool would make it through the summer.

Interestingly enough, the Park District budgeted for a $72,419 loss from all of the District’s outdoor pools in 2011, with Oakton’s stand-alone loss budgeted at $94,472. If we understand these numbers, and if they are accurate, Oakton’s closure might enable the District to actually turn a modest profit on those pools this year, something it hasn’t come close to doing in years/decades(?).

Like it or not, the era of outdoor swimming facilities like Oakton has come and gone – and it’s not likely to return anytime soon, especially in climates like ours where outdoor swimming is confined to three months a year. A well-run private company would have cut Oakton’s losses years ago, but governmental bodies tend not to care about making a profit and maximizing the value of their assets, a combination that generally is deadly in private business but is S.O.P. in the public sector where taxpayers are so easy to fleece.

Our October 16, 2007 post, “The Old Oakton Bucket,” criticized the waste of money on a deteriorating Oakton Pool that provided mere lap swimming to a generation demanding ever-changing “water entertainment.” We questioned how long the Park District could justify keeping Oakton’s doors open when it was averaging around $85,000 a year in operating losses – more than the District’s other three outdoor pools combined – on increasingly sparse attendance.

We just found out.

This momentous decision serves as a fitting valedictory for Commissioner Marty Maloney, who is ending eight years on the Park Board and heading over to Park Ridge City Hall as the new 7th Ward alderman. Unlike the current-but-departing occupants of Maloney’s new venue who lacked the integrity and the guts to vote on each of Mayor Dave Schmidt’s 70 line-item vetoes individually on its own unique merits this past Monday night, Maloney and fellow departing Park Commissioner David Herman didn’t punt the Oakton decision to the incoming board.

That’s a difference that shouldn’t be lost on those of us who pay the bills for local government.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

While I may have to agree that it might be best to close Oakton, I don’t get what you mean by the age of outdoor swimming has come and gone, especially in a climate like ours?

There’s nothing unique about that. Most parts of the US are like ours, except for the south and west. At least we’re not Canada.

Now what I’ve been wondering these last few years is how come Oakton wasn’t taken care of all along, especially considering we have 2 other pools that are much older?

EDITOR’S NOTE: We specifically used the phrase “outdoor swimming facilities like Oakton” in reference to lap pools, because the fashion today is water parks, not “swimming” pools. And even water parks have a hard time paying for themselves in climates permitting no more than 90 days or so of operation, the typical season for the Park District’s outdoor pools.

Oakton WAS “taken care of all along” – until several years ago (around the time the diving well imploded) when it became increasingly clear that our oldest CONCRETE-TANK pool was in need of significant renovation; and that its shrinking attendance and high operating expense didn’t justify the cost, as corroborated by the Oakton referendums that failed.

I’ve spent my summers at Oakton pool for years and am heartbroken about the news of its closing. It was left to slowly detireorate over the years and nothing done to the repairs needed.What a shame this was let to happen.

EDITOR’S NOTE: See Editor’s Note to MIKETOUHY comment, above.

I am wondering if there has been any thought or consideration as to what this might do to the summer camp situation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good question. We don’t know, but we could guess one or more of the following:
a. Nothing.
b. The amount of swimming opportunities for campers will need to be reduced.
c. The amount of “open” swimming for non-campers may need to be reduced to accommodate the campers.
d. b and c.
e. None of the above.

I guess planning like that before hand would be too much to ask. While my kids are into the sports camp age, they went to camps at the Main Park Leisure Center for years. As I recall, there was a pretty good crowd over there. Swimming was a big part of why the kids liked it so much. I would hope that either a workalbe solution for swimming is offered, camps shifted to centenial or refunds are offered to those who have already signed up.

The outgoing board closing the pool the week before the new board is sworn in is as pure a definition of lame duck as there could be. Funny how they cherry picked this issue, but chose to defer voting on the engineering design for North Park detention project until “the new board was in place” even though they had 2 months to action on it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not unless you’ve come up with a new definition of “lame duck” – because it was a 6-1 vote, so even if the two departing commissioners (Herman & Maloney) abstained it still would have passed 4-1 by the commissioners who will be remaining in office.

Compare/contrast that with the Park Ridge City Council’s recent vote on Mayor Schmidt’s budget vetoes, where 5 – count ’em, 5 – of the 7 over-ride votes came from aldermen heading for the exit.

following your logic…so why didn’t they vote on the North Park project design….oh wait, that’s different???

EDITOR’S NOTE: We don’t know why they didn’t vote on the North Park project design – maybe because they didn’t want a decision to turn on the votes of the 2 lame-duck commissioners if there was a chance that they might be the deciding vote(s), unlike with the Oakton Pool closure.

And, yes, the North Park project IS “different” because: (a) that the swimming season is imminent; (b) pool passes are already being purchased, and some people might not purchase if Oakton isn’t in the mix; (c) the Park District would have had to come up with an unbudgeted $94,000 ASAP just to open the pool on time. Those are all factors that make the pool decision very different from the North Park project.



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