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Largo residents rally to keep Southwest pool open

The city's Southwest pool facility has been a respite for residents from sweltering summers. Its senior programs have enriched lives and eased arthritis pain. Its Olympic size has proven a popular venue for high school swim meets and a favorite training spot for local competitive swimmers.

But with Largo's 2011 budget calling for across-the-board cuts, the pool has been mentioned as a public resource that may need to go if other options of reducing the budget fail.

At a meeting last week, commissioners were presented with a preliminary assessment of possible cuts — among them, "Close and demo Southwest Pool."

Demo, of course, meaning demolish. Filling in the pool would reduce revenue generated by the facility — $68,000 — but save $395,100 in annual operating costs, city staffers estimate. It would also cut out a half-million dollars in necessary maintenance in the coming years.

But, dozens of city residents have said in letters, phone calls, e-mails and in person that the cost in quality of life to the city would far exceed the monetary savings.

"SW pool has made my quality of life better, helping me manage my back pain," resident Bonnie Gerhart wrote.

Another resident, Christopher L. Ross, sent an e-mail to city commissioners: "It has been an intangible asset to my children's growth and well-being and continues to be a valuable part of living in Largo," he wrote.

And Anders Bastman, a city resident and former All-American swimmer, said not only has the pool been a training ground for local athletes — and young residents who use the pool to train to go on to successful aquatic careers in college — but it's also one of the city's most attractive facilities.

"The city's Southwest Rec Center Swimming and Diving facility is a jewel that needs to be burnished, not filled in," he said.

At a meeting with residents about the budget cuts Monday evening, however, City Manager Mac Craig assured residents there are no plans to cut the facility.

And Joan Byrne, Largo's parks and recreation director, said the department's programs are particularly sensitive to responses from the public because of their popularity among users.

"People love what we do. People feel passionately about parks and recreation," Byrne said.

The pool was placed in the report to provide commissioners with an alternative to reduce the budget if all of the recommended cuts are unacceptable to commissioners.

Byrne said that of the $3.5 million in cuts the city has set as its goal, $890,000 is slated to come from her department.

"To do that, you've got to put a lot of things on that list," she said.

Dominick Tao can be reached at (727) 580-2951 or dtao@sptimes.com.

Largo residents rally to keep Southwest pool open 03/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 30, 2010 8:58pm]
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