2003-03-08 / Front Page

Sinking Hope For Gateway Pool

Sinking Hope For Gateway Pool

Although an expensive feasibility study says it’s time to throw in the towel on the subject of the Gateway pool, Congressman Anthony D. Weiner says he still supports a public swimming facility in Rockaway.

"It’s not an optimistic report," Weiner said of the $200,000 study, but added, "The notion of a pool is very popular."

The study, which Weiner called an "instrument to decision making," considered three pool options, all of which were forecast to be costly to build, and expected to run an operating deficit each year.

The report also stated, and Weiner agrees, that building at the site of the Gateway Bathhouse is far too costly. "A consensus was reached that situating the proposed aquatic facility at a non-historic site…would have the greatest likelihood of achieving financial self-sufficiency," the study says.

But public pools that are profitable or that can manage to break even, are difficult to find. "Pools simply cost a lot of money to sustain," Weiner said.

Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi has apparently reached the same conclusion, according to a recent News 12 Long Island story. In an effort to boost revenues at Nassau’s recreational facilities, Suozzi is turning to outside help. Part of his plan, reportedly, is to turn over what News 12 called, "the financially ailing world-class [Eisenhower] aquatic center," to a private company.

Nassau’s facility, built in 1998 to host the Goodwill Games, costs taxpayers about $2 million a year, according to the Nassau County Legislature.

It seems that pools, and not necessarily enormous ones, are revenue drains. Consider the facility built last year in Eskridge, KS, after 83-year-old Maisie DeVore raised $100,000 by collecting aluminum cans, and selling homemade jams. Her story, told on national television, achieved nationwide prominence.

Her 40’x75’ outdoor pool, with a 150 person capacity, a low diving board, slide, and bathhouse, was built for less than $500,000 according to DeVore Community Swimming Pool Association member, Deann Williams.

After its first season of operation, however, the association that runs the pool is already considering an increase in the $1-per-person admission fee, Williams said. The pool will continue to rely heavily on grants and donations, according to Williams, who added, "We’re going to continually have fundraisers." She called her work to keep the pool afloat "a huge responsibility."

Meanwhile, DeVore, who worked for 35 years to raise her initial contribution, must continue collecting cans and selling her homemade spreads, to keep her dream alive, Williams said.

Though many pro-pool Rockaway community members have challenged the findings of the study, Weiner said, "We paid good people to do the survey," and added that they have no motive to "sabotage" a potential project.

One criticism that the study faces is directly related to its estimates of pool revenue. "It is clear that some potential users…would be willing to pay above-market fees for facility access and services," the study says, but then bases revenue estimates on a maximum adult day fee of $5. Children, according to the study estimates, could pay as much as $3 or as little as $1.50. Comparatively, adult admission at a local movie theater is $8.50 for adults, and $5.50 for children. At a local video rental chain, a new release costs more than $5., and popular video games rent for almost $6.50.

According to Weiner, the pool also faces another significant challenge, "there are not a lot of $20 million projects going on," he said, adding that there are no other public pools on national park property.

The sheer cost of building the pool could be the final nail in its coffin. The federal deficit is growing faster than expected, and tax-cuts and the possibility of a war in Iraq could create an even larger money shortage, according to a recent story in The New York Times.

"Where are we going to get the money?" Weiner asked.

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