Every year, Boises public pools lose money.
Its true of the bare-bones Lowell and South pools, just as its true of the Natatorium and its amenities, which include a slide known as the Hydrotube and a wading pool.
Each of these three pools is expected to lose about $50,000 next year.
But on a per-visitor basis, the city pays much more to cover losses at South and Lowell. Thats because the Natatoriums crowd roughly doubles the combined number of South and Lowell visitors.
Even with paid admissions doubling since 2009, the city figures to spend more money per visitor on South and Lowell than its other four pools, based on 2011 attendance figures and next years cost projections.
The discrepancy has pushed planners at Boises Department of Parks and Recreation to consider ways of reducing losses at South and Lowell. And that includes closure.
The choice is a measure of the citys values.
On one side is the idea not a fully formed plan of closing both places. On the other is a suggestion to update the facilities to include popular amenities like the ones at the Natatorium, in the hope that the investment would draw more visitors and money.
This is not the first time that closing the Lowell and South pools has come up. The idea has been raised periodically for years, often when the citys budget tightens.
At a meeting Tuesday, several Boise City Council members objected to the suggestion of shuttering two of the citys oldest pools. Though difficult to measure in dollars, the cost borne by the neighborhoods would outweigh the citys monetary savings, Councilwoman Lauren McLean said.
What will shape my decision what I think is really important is that we make sure that we can provide recreational opportunities to kids who wouldnt have them otherwise, McLean said.
Many of the children who live near Lowell and South pools dont have convenient access to other recreational activities, said Doug Holloway, interim director of the Parks and Recreation Department.
Schools in those areas serve a high percentage of low-income students, Holloway said. South Pool, built in 1954, is located in Bowden Park in the Depot Bench Neighborhood. Lowell Pool, built in 1953, is located on 28th Street north of State Street.
Things are already bad enough for many of the children in low-income neighborhoods, said Russ Thompson, former president of the Depot Bench Neighborhood Association. Closing the pool would deprive the community of a gathering place and push more kids into troublemaking, he said.
What does that do for us? It makes it worse, Thompson said.
McLean said making recreational facilities cheap and easily accessible is in line with the citys larger goal of serving low-income and at-risk families.
Holloway agreed. Even if the city closed Lowell and South pools, he said, Parks and Recreation would find a way to transport children from those neighborhoods to other pools.
That would not be the preferred option, he said.
Raising the issue before the City Council during discussion of the proposed Parks and Recreation eight-year plan could lead to improvements at both pools.
Council President Maryanne Jordan said the city should examine pool expenditures within the overall context of the budget. Discontinuing obsolete programs or decreasing spending on other budget items could free up money to put toward improvements at Lowell, South and other pools, she said.
Like McLean, Jordan opposes closing Lowell and South.
Pools, by their nature, are a sort of special activity, and I dont think you can replace them by doing another thing, she said.
Sven Berg: 377-6275