The club swim team that stepped up this spring to save an imperiled county swimming pool in Hudson is pulling out of the proposed solution because it could not find enough swimmers to field a team in that area.
The Land O'Lakes Lightning will close its fledgling team at Veterans Memorial Park on Aug. 17. It had offered to take over operations at the Hudson pool — similar to an arrangement at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex — but club president Brett Ewald said the team only attracted 20 swimmers. That's far short of the more than 100 needed to cover operations costs.
"It wasn't like, 'Man, we just missed it,' " he said. "We were just way far off the goal we needed to hit."
The move is a setback for the Veterans Park pool, but it isn't a death blow. Parks officials are setting up a meeting with high school swim coaches that use the pool and representatives from the YMCA and Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point.
"I'm still hoping that something will materialize" to keep the pool open, said county parks director Rick Buckman.
Ewald said the team would consider possible solutions like joining those groups to pay for operations. Covering only a portion of the costs would mean the Lightning could get by with a smaller team.
"We're not turning our back and saying we're gone," he said. "I'd be happy to see how we could be part of (a potential plan)."
Without an agreement, county commissioners would have to come up with roughly $100,000 to keep the pool open next summer. That's what commissioners agreed to last year on a 3-2 vote. The three commissioners who live in West Pasco supported the money.
As part of the budget cuts in recent years, the county has closed the Grove Park pool in New Port Richey and the Hercules Aquatic Center in Zephyrhills. New Port Richey officials recently outlined a plan to close the pools at the city's recreation center from September until late May. That plan must still be approved by the City Council.
The proposed county budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 includes enough money for lifeguards for the summer swim program at the pools in Hudson and Land O'Lakes. But it eliminates money for an aquatics supervisor, pool chemicals and other maintenance costs for the Hudson pool.
Ewald said nearly all of the people who joined the team are in high school and will swim with their school teams once classes start later this month.
He didn't expect that so few families in Hudson would be willing to pay the $250-per-summer fee to join the Lightning. Plus, the team was starting from scratch in Hudson while it has been established for years in Land O'Lakes.
"When it came down to it, (the swimmers) weren't there," he said. "It's a very difficult thing to go to a community and say, 'You all have to competitively swim or else we're going to close your pool.' "
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.