TAMPA — At $80 for 10 weeks, the city of Tampa's summer camps are a bargain — an "amazing deal," one parent says — so open spots get snapped up.
Except on Monday night, when the city's online camp registration was scheduled to open.
Instead, it crashed.
Susan Lucas of Harbour Island had hoped to sign up her 5-year-old daughter Olivia for camps at either Kate Jackson Community Center or Friendship Park.
She even had filled out as much of the online application as she could ahead of the 6 p.m. start time. But after three hours of fruitless effort, she heard from a friend who also had been working the online registration system that the camps she wanted were full, with waiting lists.
"It was frustrating, because I thought I was all set and ready to go," said Lucas, 31, who works in human resources for a shipping company. Now, she said, she probably is looking at a camp that costs $200 per week — or about $2,000 for 10 weeks. "I feel like, 'How could anyone else have gotten through?' "
She's not alone. For reasons that city officials were still piecing together Tuesday, the system bogged down when registration opened at 6 p.m.
For about an hour, no one was getting through. About 800 people had tried to register by 7 p.m., after which some began to get through, parks and recreation director Greg Bayor said.
At that point, "It seemed to be taking some of the registrations, but it was operating in a very degraded state," said Russell Haupert, the city director of technology and innovation.
The problem turned out to be a corrupted database. By 9:30 or a little later, city computer technicians determined they needed to shut the registration system down to run a recovery program. Registration closed completely about 10 p.m., and the recovery took until about 1 a.m.
As of late Tuesday, city programmers had not isolated the cause of the problem, Haupert said. It's something that can happen when the system is under an extreme load, but he doesn't necessarily think that's what happened Monday. The city does plan to take up the matter with Vermont Systems Inc., its vendor for the software. Bayor said the software is used nationwide, "and I haven't heard of this problem elsewhere, so we have to dig down and see what happened here."
Officials said online application records did get a digital time-stamp, so city staff members had a record of who was where in line. Parks staff members stayed late Monday and came in early Tuesday to process registrations, in essence, by hand, Bayor said. That included making calls to more than 100 parents Tuesday.
Recreation centers were holding walk-in registration Tuesday evening, and Bayor expected few spots to be left open today.
The city has a total of about 1,600 spots available at its summer camps. Of those, about 270 went to children enrolled in after-school programs before online registration began.
By Tuesday afternoon, six of the most popular camps were full: Kate Jackson, Port Tampa, Friendship, Hunt, Forest Hills and Davis Islands. A seventh, at Loretta Ingraham Recreation Complex, was nearly full.
Bayor said parents can still call the parks department's main number, (813) 274-8615, and ask for Tony Mulkey to find out which camps have openings. The department does have waiting lists, because "some people drop out or plans change." In such cases, he said, "We'll try to squeeze them in."