Pam Pousson credits the Dye Natatorium -- Tehachapi's indoor swimming pool -- with helping her regain her health and lose nearly 150 pounds.
So she was disappointed to hear recently that the Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Park District plans to have the pool open only from February through September each year -- instead of the year-round schedule the pool has (mostly) had since it was built in the late 1960s.
Mostly because in recent years the pool has had several long periods of closure for maintenance -- most recently from May 2013 to February 2014.
According to Matt Young, district manager for TVRPD, restricting access to the pool was part of a decision the board made when it approved its budget in July.
Pousson said she and other swimmers only learned of it when they heard lifeguards talking about it.
She then contacted board member Craig Mifflin who told her by email that the closure from October through January is for three reasons -- a "considerable amount of maintenance" that needs to be done on the facility; staffing and cost-effectiveness.
According to Mifflin, with new labor regulations, "if an employee works over 960 hours in a year, full benefits have to be given. This would add a considerable cost."
Also, he told Pousson, "It's not cost effective. The cost to keep the pool operational is between $7,000 and $10,000 per month, depending upon how many programs/hours are offered. If there were say, 50 people that had passes which cost $25, the monthly income would be $1,250 per month. So, at a minimum, it would cost the district an additional $23,000 to keep the pool open. During the summer months with lots of programs running, it is right at break even."
Mifflin said in his email that the district has tried to compensate by extending the hours the pool is open.
"More hours are offered overall now than ever before," he said.
But for Pousson and others who rely on the pool for exercise, additional summer hours won't make a difference when their access to the pool ends Oct. 1. They're hoping that Mifflin was serious with his statement that the board's decision might be changed.
"If enough people show real interest in keeping it open, the decision could be changed," Mifflin wrote. "The belief however, is that there just aren't enough people willing to brave the cold, drafty building during the winter months to justify the expense. It just doesn't make sense to keep it open for the 10 or so people that might use it."
Pousson and other swimmers question the statistics cited in Mifflin's email.
One swimmer said that on a recent morning there were 20 to 25 people using the pool before 6:30 a.m. And another said he paid $50 per month for his swim pass, not $25.
Pousson shared an email that Valerie Randolph sent to Mifflin.
Randolph said she and others have been working to have Tehachapi host a triathlon.
"But if the pool is closed for the winter, how can people train for a tri here," Randolph asked. She noted that she is actually more likely to swim in the indoor pool during the winter months when it's more difficult to pursue outdoor activity.
Manager Young confirmed Mifflin's reasoning for restricting pool hours.
"At this point, and due to the reasons stated by Director Mifflin and myself, the district can not justify the twelve (12) month operation of Dye Natatorium," Young said in an email. "The District, however is extremely pleased to afford to the public an eight (8) month operational schedule with expanded and enhanced aquatic programs. By comparison, many other Park Districts, municipalities and public agencies serving similar demographics only afford summer pool schedules (3 months), making Tehachapi's pool season is a rarity, and one for which I am extremely proud of. "
Pousson and fellow swimmers hoped to make a case to the board at its meeting scheduled Tuesday, Aug. 19 (after the deadline for this edition), but found it was too late to have the matter on the agenda.
They hope to reach out to the community for support. Pousson said she believes that having a year-round pool available is an important "quality of life" asset for the Tehachapi area, and that there may be ways that swimmers can work with the district to resolve some of the issues cited.
Has any thought been given to reducing the cost of electricity by adding solar, she asked.
She also questioned management of the pool and said that the current inflexibility of payment options discourages people from using the pool and drives down attendance.
"The discount summer swim passses to encourage both individuals and families to use the pool was nice," she said. "More people used the pool."
She added that some people have been reluctant to purchase swim passes because of unforseseen closures, such as days when chlorine levels aren't right and sessions are delayed or cancelled altogether.
And although overall hours may have increased, lap swimming availability has been decreased, she said.