To swim or not to swim, that is the question.
After a nearly 40-minute discussion, the Dyersville City Council is still grappling with the decision of whether or not to open the aquatic center this summer.
Given the gravity of the situation, the council is now turning to the public for more input before reaching a verdict.
City Administrator Mick Michel said the council is looking at three options — the first is to close the pool for the 2020 season, the second to open July 1 with no swimming lessons and the third to open July 1 with swimming lessons.
While the council was presented with the two options that would open the pool, only one thing is for certain — this summer’s aquatic experience would almost be unrecognizable.
Keeping in mind guidelines being handed down from the CDC, the Iowa Department of Public Health and recommendations from national pool associations, the aquatic center will need to implement several heavy-handed restrictions if it were to open.
“We could not have any more than 25 people — and that includes anyone that would swim or would not swim,” Michel said.
That 25-person limit does not include staff, but there could be no more than 34 people in the facility at a time, and with that 25-person limit, there would be no parties allowed this summer.
Staff is also looking at using booking software for the 25 available slots in order to prevent lines from forming outside the pool, which would cause disappointment and unnecessary crowding.
Given how difficult it is to keep dry surfaces disinfected, the pool would close the slides as well as the diving boards if opened. There would also be no use of the lockers in the bathroom facilities and anyone outside of the pool would need to be in a mask.
And even if swimming lessons are held, the instructor would be on the deck giving commands to a parent who would be in the water with their child.
Michel said he thinks conducting lessons this way may lead to parents asking for refunds. Michel also worried that it could get to the point that patrons may no longer want to follow these new restrictions.
“Anything that we do, we’re going to have to meet a standard,” Michel said. “That way we can defend that standard against any type of litigation that may present itself.”
As is evident by petitions and public outcry in the past, the aquatic center can be a source of passion for Dyersville residents, making this decision all the more difficult.
In early March, Parks and Rec Director Gavin Nadermann sent out a survey to nearly 500 individuals who participated in city-sponsored summer activities during the 2018 and 2019 seasons.
While nearly 440 responded, some council members speculated that so much has changed in the past several weeks that the survey results may no longer represent the public’s attitude.
Councilman Tom Westhoff theorized that those taking the survey were imagining the classic summer pool going experience, which would not be the case this season.
“In their mind, it’s going to the pool, going down the slides, going off the diving board — not having to social distance,” Westhoff said. “So, this is a totally different experience that we’re offering if we do open it up.”
With that in mind, Westhoff said he thinks even fewer people would be in favor of opening with the restrictions.
According to survey data, 46% said they would like to see the pool open but would also understand if it didn’t, 24% said they would rather be safe than sorry and 23% said they would be extremely disappointed if the pool closed.
As for swim lessons, 31% said they would like to see only private lessons, 31% would still like group lessons but with smaller class sizes, 27% said it would not impact them and 6% said there shouldn’t be swim lessons. Additionally, 63% plan on registering their children for swim lessons if they become available while 32% do not.
Overall, when asked which summer programs or services they are most excited for, 72% said the pool, 65% parks/playgrounds, 60% swimming lessons, 51% baseball/softball and 51% soccer.
Aside from public opinion, the council also has to take into account the monetary toll of the decision.
Michel said on average, even after revenue is accounted for, the taxpayer usually pays around $118,000 just to keep the pool running.
On a spreadsheet comparing the estimated costs against the 2019 season, for option one, Michel said the city would save $164,000. For option two, which would be opening the pool July 1 for about five weeks with restrictions and no lessons, the cost savings would be $96,000 and for option three, which would be a July 1 opening and holding about 100 private lessons, there would be a cost savings of $35,000.
With an already tight budget and the uncertainty of the impact COVID-19 will have on the city’s tax revenue, Mayor Jim Heavens wondered if opening the pool and presenting taxpayers with the bill is the right decision at this time.
“Maybe we could take that money, if the tax environment allows us to, and sequester that for pool improvements next season,” Heavens said. “If you’re looking at it strictly from a dollar and cents standpoint, you’re looking at $100,000 to open the pool for a month or six weeks and not being able to offer the experience that people are used to having up there — it’s a tough call to make.”
Even if the pool is closed for the year, it will still cost the city $63,000 just by existing. Staff said the pool will need to be filled up halfway regardless in order to prevent severe damage to the pumps and other infrastructure.
The council also wants to use the period between now and June 1 to see what surrounding communities are doing.
Nadermann said Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Bellevue will all close pools this summer, while Dubuque is still waiting for more guidance.
Councilman Mike Oberbroeckling said Dyersville took some criticism for hosting St. Patrick’s Day while other communities canceled, but if the council closes the pool while others don’t, there would likely be even greater backlash from the public.
“If we have other pools opening, and we don’t open or offer swimming lessons, I think we stand to take a lot more criticism — why we don’t think we can open when everyone else can,” Oberbroeckling said.
Oberbroeckling said he would like to see the public have an informed discussion before any decision takes place, making a motion to table the issue for the June 1 meeting.
The council voted 4-1 to table, with Councilman Mike English voting to close the pool.
Documents containing financial figures and survey results will be available for viewing on the city’s website.