Evergreen Community Aquatics Center: Energy Bill Threatens Closure in January
The name says it all with the most important word right in the middle, community; a gathering place for children and seniors, a place to learn water safety skills that are useful throughout life. The Center, which reopened in March 2010 under the direction of the WhiteWater Management Group, a non-profit subsidiary of WhiteWater Aquatics SwimTeam, faces potential closure mid-January 2014 due in part to outstanding energy bills owed to Puget Sound Energy (PSE). Board member, Julie Dow, is quick to point out that the non-profit and PSE have worked together to try to conquer this outstanding debt, but there comes a time when all bills must be paid.
Since taking over the pool from King County operation in 2010, WhiteWater Management has steadily reduced pool operating costs, particularly energy costs, through grants for new, efficient boilers and a pool blanket. A grant is waiting in the wings now for a solar heating system to further reduce costs, though a new roof on a portion of the aging 1969 facility is needed before the installation can begin. With all the positive energy related changes, the lingering energy bill is the result of a three month forced closure die to a roof fire in March 2011. The closure of the facility meant no fees for service or classes could be collected for this extended time; and just because no one is swimming in the pool doesn’t mean that energy is not used, pool maintenance and heating is an ongoing endeavor. The current amount due to PSE of $15,000 is directly tied to the 2011 closure.
WhiteWater Management’s mission to provide swim opportunities to all, regardless of their ability to pay, is evidenced in several key programs including free and reduced cost swim lessons to any student qualifying for free and reduced lunch at school (40% of their lesson base) and pay-what-you-can swim lessons. Joel Schweiger, Center manager, is focused on community access to water safety given the Center’s closeness to major bodies of water and that most child drowning deaths happen to lower income children as studied by the World Health Organization. Further, he knows and sees the positive impact that teaching children to swim can have beyond its life-saving qualities; it provides children with a lifelong sport, a way to stay fit until they are seniors.
There is no other pool options close by, many of the pool users and students walk to reach the Center. Some seniors who frequent the pool have been coming since it opened. For Joel and the non-profit board of WhiteWater, this is what matters – the access to swimming that is vital to keeping their community strong and healthy. As a non-profit, WhiteWater has improved the business model and operation of the pool; under King County management the pool routinely experienced annual operating deficits of $170,000-180,000. WhiteWater reduced these deficits substantially to $50,000 per year which they offset through fundraising and grant efforts to insure the variety of programming meets community needs. With the new planned for energy improvements, Julie Dow points out that the deficit will drop closer to $20,000 and that even when they reach this level they will continue to diligently look for further operation cost reductions.
If the pool were forced into closure, it is not a simple matter of locking the doors; the logistics of a pool closure and ongoing maintenance remain along with seismic concerns should it come to a point that the pool must be drained. Pool manager Schweiger says that the greatest loss could be the momentum that the all-volunteer board has built up to keep the swim community alive. Just over 3,800 students have learned to swim at the Center since 2010. Mt. Rainier senior Megan Kawaguchi who recently signed to the University of Utah’s swim team eloquently stated at Burien City Council’s December 2, 2013 meeting that her experience at the Center was that it became her second home; swimming has provided her with opportunities she never imagined including the importance of diversity in swimming at the competitive level.
Currently through a social media and crowd funding campaign, WhiteWater has raised $5,000 of the needed $15,000 to meet the January payment deadline. All the campaign details can be found at: www.evergreenpool.org.