Cover Story - Decline of the Public Pools

If you want to swim in the City of Huntington you better have a pool in your backyard. Since the Olympic Pool shutdown a few years ago after it physically fell apart people here have been forced to travel to cool off in the summer. Operation of the Olympic Pool changed hands over the years since it first opened in 1950 so you really can't blame one particular entity for letting it fall into a state of disrepair. Either way with communities both smaller and of equal size to Huntington are still successfully operating public pools so it begs the question why?

A few years ago Dreamland Pool was leased to a private company on a short term basis. The city of Kenova owns it again but during that time the private company came up with the money to upgrade the facility. Mayor Morrone says it was that upgrade that allowed the pool to stay open. Now that it's the only game in town, and for many local towns, the mayor says the increased ticket sales at Dreamland are really paying off.

Mayor Morrone says, "Kids get exercise. We have a swim team. Ladies Aerobics. Swim parties in the evenings. We're always looking for ways to make money and increase activities."

Nitro Mayor Rusty Casto loves to talk about the Nitro City Pool. The way he sees it, the pool is just as much a cornerstone of family activity as the local library. "I think it's real important for a small city because during the summer when school's out this is where practically the whole community gathers. You can see your neighbors and people from all over the valley right here."

That used to be the story in Huntington, where people gathered up the kids, slathered on the sunscreen and jumped in the water at the Olympic Pool. At one time, Olympic Pool was one of four pools in Huntington. Now, only the smallest remains at the AD Lewis Center.

Mr. Jim McClelland says shutting down the basic public pool is really a National trend as more people build their own backyard pools and kids have a lot of other summer activities. Still, some feel losing one small public pool in a city the size of Huntington creates a real void.

Maintenance and upkeep are the biggest challenges for municipal pools. But Mayor Casto says Nitro's annual expenses of 40 to 50 thousand dollars a year are creatively offset by revenue from those night time pool parties and a good concession stand. Kenova's Dreamland Pool, West Virginia's largest since 1926, has remained open thanks to regular maintenance of pumps and filters and essentially a commitment to serve the taxpayers.

Trey Morrone says, "We had prior councils that had wanted to close it but I’ve worked hard, along with the park board, to keep it open. I think that's what people want."

"I’ve been here 3 years and we've seen an increase. It started out with 200 people and now it's about 400 people a day."

Of course, Huntington would have to start from scratch if community leaders ever decide to open a new pool and in a city that says it can't even afford to pave its streets. the chances of that happening are pretty shallow.

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