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Steinle: Clearwater's pool season will lengthen next year

Clearwater will extend its public pool season in 2015, when the city’s four outdoor facilities will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for six weekends after school starts.

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times

Clearwater will extend its public pool season in 2015, when the city’s four outdoor facilities will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for six weekends after school starts.

It's hot as heck outside. Wouldn't it be refreshing to immerse yourself in the cool, clear water of a swimming pool?

If you live in Clearwater and you don't have your own pool, you are out of luck. As far as the city of Clearwater is concerned, summer swimming season is over. The city's four outdoor pools closed when school started Aug. 18.

It's been that way for years. Though August is the most oppressively hot month of the summer, and though the heat usually continues unabated through September, Clearwater's public pools are fenced off, the lifeguard stands are empty and not even a ripple disturbs the water's surface.

Every year somebody asks why. It's a logical question. Why go to the expense of maintaining a pool complex year-round when it will be open only 10 or 12 weeks a year? And why open for such a short window when Pinellas County easily has a six-month swimming season?

City pools used to open in April and remain open into September. But in 2008, as the economy tanked and the Florida Legislature capped how much property taxes local governments could raise, Clearwater made deep cuts in leisure services, including pools and libraries. Some library branches were open only a few hours a day. The four outdoor pools (Clearwater has one indoor pool open year-round) started opening in late May and closing when school started in mid August.

Good news! Next summer will be different.

The City Council voted at its last meeting to keep the four pools open an additional six weekends, starting in summer 2015. The pools will be open from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from the time school opens until late September. The net cost to the city of keeping the pools open those additional weekends will be around $10,000.

The vote to keep the pools open was unanimous, though council member Hoyt Hamilton had argued during a previous discussion that the city shouldn't "go crazy" adding back services it had cut during the bad times.

"We should focus on spending money where there is potential and good probability of return on investment," he said. "You should spend money that can make you money."

If that were the operating philosophy for local governments, there would be no parks, no pools, no recreation programming. Or fees to use them would be so high that much of the public would be closed out.

Here's the payback on that $10,000 investment that Clearwater will receive next year: hundreds of happy, soaking-wet kids off the streets, seniors getting their exercise, parents splashing and bonding with their children. Sounds like a great deal to me.

Steinle: Clearwater's pool season will lengthen next year 08/28/14 [Last modified: Thursday, August 28, 2014 2:38pm]
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