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Slit in pool cover puts a shiver in swim plans

The heated pool will remain open while the YMCA replaces the protective dome, apparently cut by a vandal.

High winds have twice destroyed a protective bubble that the Hernando County Family YMCA has used to cover its swimming pool each winter since the mid 1980s.

Last week, it appears someone besides Mother Nature was responsible for a 30-foot gash that deflated the fabric dome used to protect swimmers from the elements.

A worker who had been painting at the Mariner Boulevard facility discovered the damage at about 1:45 a.m. on Dec. 21, according to a Hernando County sheriff's report. There were no signs of forced entry, but two warm-air blowers used to keep the bubble up had been turned off, and the dome appeared to have been cut with a razor knife.

Scott Goyer, president and CEO of Suncoast Family YMCA, said Friday that replacing the tarp will cost more than $20,000. A new tarp is on order from a California supplier, but officials are telling members not to count on delivery before February, leaving thousands who use the pool out in the cold.

"Obviously, it has curtailed our ability to serve the community as well as we'd like," Goyer said. "It has created some challenges for us."

The eight-lane heated pool will remain open during normal hours, and the water temperature will be maintained at 86 degrees. But with air temperatures dipping into the 40s and 50s during the day, only the hardiest of souls are willing to risk a dip.

Hilda and Geoffrey Payne of Spring Hill have canceled their membership for now, saying that their ages _ she's 73, he's 75 _ and arthritis keep them from using the center's other exercise equipment.

"We can't do the bouncing and the up and down anymore," said Mrs. Payne. She recently had surgery on her hip, and her husband had surgery on his knee. "All we use is the swimming pool."

The Paynes are longtime members who have visited the pool at 7 a.m. nearly every day for much of the past decade. They braved the weather once last week without the bubble but found it was just too cold.

"This is tragic for us really because it's the only exercise we can have," she said. "That's our winter program, shot."

With the county's only public swimming pool, the YMCA gets a fair amount of traffic. Officials said that about 3,500 people use the pool annually, with about 1,500 students taking lessons there as part of a program offered through the Hernando County School District.

Goyer recalled no unusual incidents leading up to the slashing, leaving staffers to wonder who might have done such a thing.

Ronald Edgerton, 64, of Hernando Beach was aggravated by what he views as a senseless act. He showed up at the pool last week, not knowing the bubble was gone. He suggested offering a reward to help catch the culprit.

"It'd be good to have them work there and pay back the money," he said. "They need to put some heat on these kids or whoever did it."