TAMPA — Just days after releasing a report suggesting that city pools attract surprisingly few swimmers — fewer than 10 a day at two pools — Tampa officials have backed away from the numbers, saying they don't have reliable statistics on pool usage.
"It's not what it should be," Tampa parks and recreation director Greg Bayor now says. "I think our numbers are not accurate enough, and that's shame on us for not really paying more attention to them."
On July 22, the city released a July 12 report to the City Council on pool costs and usage. Among other things, it showed that, on average, eight city pools received an average of 21 visits per day during 2012.
The Bobby Hicks Pool in South Tampa had the most, with an average of 45 visits per day. But the daily averages — extrapolated from the parks department's annual totals by the city budget office — showed a mere six visits per day at the Loretta Ingraham Pool in Carver City and just one or two per day at the Cyrus Greene Pool in east Tampa.
By Thursday, the report was dead in the face of questions about how the numbers were compiled. Asked which pools would have to get recounts, Bayor said, "all need upgrades."
Traditionally, Tampa parks and recreation officials have had four operational quadrants for their programs and facilities. That means pool attendance probably has not been tracked uniformly. One pool might be having swimmers swipe their city recreation cards upon arrival. Another might have lifeguards taking down names on a sheet of paper, if they don't get busy and forget.
"A lot of it is eyeball count," which hinges on the staff report's reliability, Bayor said. "I need a citywide look."
As a result, the city will put uniform tracking systems in place and work on expanding aquatics programs.
"We need to program better to get more people into our pools," Bayor said.
That means looking at specialized programs, including perhaps water polo at the Copeland Park Pool, which has the right dimensions for the sport.
"Kids want the hot new thing and what's exciting," Bayor said. "We just can't open the doors and expect them to show up."
The city's decision to back away from its earlier usage statistics did not surprise Interbay Pool lap swimmer Carol Cameron.
"Is it not ridiculous that they even put them out like that?" said Cameron, 74, who lives in Palma Ceia.
After seeing the report, the retired Christian bookstore owner emailed City Council members saying that the numbers didn't add up.
So Cameron volunteered to go through poolside sign-in sheets herself to help ensure that the city had sound statistics on which to base aquatics decisions.
"From the get-go, I knew that the figures weren't right," she said.
City Council member Harry Cohen likewise was skeptical.
After he shared the report with constituents who were active swimmers and aquatics advocates, he got a lot of pointed questions about the accuracy of the numbers.
"I am not at all surprised that the methodologies didn't bear out," Cohen said. "I never believed the numbers. I believe the numbers undercount how many people use the pools."
Still, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city needs to be careful before adding months of swim time at seasonal pools — an idea floated by the City Council — or taking on major projects like the repair of Cuscaden Pool north of Ybor City.
"Irrespective of what those numbers reflect, I think all of us would acknowledge that at some of the pools, when you do the cost-benefit analysis, it would be a very, very difficult decision," he said.
That is particularly the case at the Cuscaden Pool, he said.
It was built in 1937 and closed in 1997 because of leaks. It got a $2.5 million renovation in 2005 but closed again because of leaks in 2010. It has not been open for four summers. In February, city officials estimated repairs would cost at least $1.3 million.
Because of its above-ground design, Cuscaden would be unusually challenging to fix, Buckhorn said. Also, the Boys & Girls Club is no longer at the pool, so there's less there to attract kids.
"We're going to do an analysis of what the demand would be at that facility, and whether it justifies making a multimillion-dollar investment in a pool that may start leaking a year from now," Buckhorn said. "Cuscaden is fraught with risk, just by virtue of being old and having a very, very inefficient design."