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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Pools in Columbia—Past, Present and Future

I recently attended a community meeting on the Columbia Association Aquatics Master Plan. CA recognizes that as Columbia matures and changes demographically some of the original features like neighborhood pools may have to change. It isn’t like some of those changes have already occurred. When I moved into the Elkhorn neighborhood in the late 70’s there was a big sign at the bottom of my street announcing the future location of a neighborhood pool and elementary school. When the houses in the neighborhood were built the signs came down and nothing more was heard about the “future” pool and elementary school to which my kids could easily walk. HRD or someone thought the signs would be good for marketing even if there were no plans for either amenity.

As the newer neighborhoods like Kendall Ridge and the villages of Hickory Ridge and River Hill developed the idea of smaller neighborhood pools changed to larger pools serving larger areas. The small neighborhood pool had already outlived its practicality in the newer neighborhoods. One size doesn’t seem to fit all especially when some of the first pools are within a “stone’s throw” from each other. Locust Park and Jeffers Hill, two low utilized pools, are practically next to each other on either side of Route 175. Faukner Ridge and Running Brook are another example of two pools being so close to each other that they compete for usage.

What CA is seeing is that some neighborhood pools are vastly underutilized. Talbott Springs has an average daily attendance of 58 or almost half the daily attendance of the next lowest attended pool. This is in spite of having one of the highest number of residents within one half mile of the pool. Locust Park the 3rd most underutilized pool has the highest number of residents within one half mile of the pool. In both cases this is because of the high number of apartment building near those pools. However the income of families living in those apartments is some of the lowest for families in Columbia. Family income in neighborhoods seems to correlate with pool attendance. This is spite of CA having a program for low-income residents to get a reduced membership fee. Other factors seem to be involved in the low utilization of those pools.

While the competition from Lifetime Fitness and the YMCA may compete for with CA there seems to be a market for all three to survive very well. It certainly seemed that Lifetime did cause CA to upgrade the Hopewell pool and go to 24-hour operation at Supreme Sports Club to not loose members.

One of the overlooked benefits of the pools is that for many teenagers in Columbia it was their first paying job. Nice youth employment program for Columbia.

The changing demographics of Columbia with our aging population will require that CA look at how the pools can be used by mature adults. I know that we dropped our CA membership when our kids left home because they had been the driving force in our joining CA. As this becomes the norm in neighborhoods the pool usage will decline unless pools can be marketed to mature adults instead of families with kids at home.

Some of the ideas that came out of the meeting I attended was that pools have more planned social events for adults like “Beach Boy Night” or “Parrot-head Night” with food, music and trivia games for baby boomers. Mommy and Me swim for mothers with small children. Swimming lessons for anyone who couldn’t swim even if you didn’t have a CA membership but could show a Columbia residence. The final point was further discussed that there should be times for any CA resident that pays a CA assessment fee to be able to use underutilized pools without having to be a CA member. The usage could be limited to a certain days or times or frequency of usage. What is the point of having underutilized facilities and denying residents who pay around a thousand dollars a year in CA assessment access to those pools?

I will be going out of town for a few days so everyone have a great weekend. Blog to continue next week.


K-Coop said...

Duane - It was great meeting you at the workshop and I enjoyed your recap. A lot of great ideas came out of that meeting! If anyone wasn't able to attend, there is a lot of great information, including a summary of the workshops, at
Hope you have a great trip!

- Kelly Cooper, CA Communications & Community Relations

Jessie at CA said...

@Duane - Great post! And kudos to you for being an awesome example of how to deepen a conversation about a community issue such as the Aquatics Master Plan. (I saw you posted your link on CA's Facebook page.)

If you're looking for more opportunities to link your post to an online article or conversation, Stan Ber of the Flier has a piece on the Aqua Plan and community involvement - And there's this article by Sara Toth --- and the Patch story (and lots of comments) here -

@K-Coop - Yay for more CA engagement in the local blogs. #MorePlease ;-)