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Pandemic uncertainty dampens Waitsburg pool operation for 2020

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Waitsburg city pool

Waitsburg city pool

WAITSBURG — Swimmers will have to find a new place to cool off this summer as Waitsburg City Council decided Wednesday not to reopen the city’s public pool this year.

The pool season stretches typically from mid-June to mid-August in Waitsburg, but with Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and the four-phase reopening plan, the timeline for pool operations is uncertain.

Phase 3 of the reopening plan includes pools at just 50% capacity. There is no firm date for the beginning of the phase, except a general guideline that phases will be implemented in three-week intervals if public health data looks favorable, according to the Safe Start Washington document.

Walla Walla County is currently in Phase 1 and without an earlier approval for Phase 2 joins the state in advancing to the next phase, tentatively June 1.

Council decided to instead use this time on work needed for opening in summer 2021, while the coronavirus pandemic keeps the pool closed for an extended time regardless.

A leak under the pool deck can’t be repaired without tearing up some of the concrete. The city needs to replace chemical injectors and coat the pool in rubberized pool paint, said City Administrator Randy Hinchliffe.

“Regardless of how it looks on the surface, it’s still a 1925 pool. Every year it’s a toss of the coin whether the heaters are going to fire up or the chemical injector is going to work,” he said. “You could face $5,000 expenses just getting it going between propane and parts and everything else. It typically takes about a month to get ready.”

Inmates who typically help Public Works each year are not able to, leaving the city a little behind. Public Works typically spends most of May preparing the pool for opening.

“This year we don’t have the inmates because they are in lockdown and they won’t let them out because of the pandemic, so we’re low on labor,” Hinchliffe said.

Lifeguards are also hard to find, he said. Last year the city had six lifeguards go through a class with the YMCA in Walla Walla so that they could get lifeguards for their season.

“Six guards went into that program, only four came out,” Hinchliffe said. “That made it hard to cover shifts and keep the pool open normal hours.”

He said the city has only had one applicant for a lifeguard position this year.

Pool attendance has also been declining, he said.

Furthermore, Waitsburg faces budget constraints from the pandemic issues on top of the flood damage from February, he said.

He said levy improvements needed from the impacts of the flood in February disrupt the pool’s budget.

With the pool closed the city may look into other alternatives.

“We may look into and do something similar to what Dayton does through Columbia County Public Transportation where they bus kids to Prescott, which is the closest pool to us, and it appears it won’t open until late June at a minimum,” Hinchliffe said.

Chloe LeValley can be reached at chloelevalley@wwub.com or 509-526-8326.

Chloe LeValley covers civic engagement in the Walla Walla Valley including city governments, county commissioners and other civic groups. She is a recent graduate from San Francisco State University and came to join our team in October 2019.