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Published: Wednesday, 4/29/2009

Wauseon Council agrees to shut city pool permanently


WAUSEON - When Wauseon officials placed a 1-mill levy on the local ballot 12 years ago to pay for replacing the Reighard Park swimming pool, they cautioned that the existing pool would stay open only as long as it could be repaired economically.

The levy failed, and the pool's year of reckoning has finally arrived.

"We've done a good job keeping that old pool going," Neal Graf, the city's parks and recreation director, said last week to explain his recommendation that the 1941-vintage pool be closed permanently. "I knew there would come a day when it wouldn't work any more."

City council agreed, leaving city officials with decisions to make concerning a future pool levy request and perhaps an interim "splash pad" to offer local children some substitute relief during summer's hottest days. But even a "splash pad" wouldn't be ready for this summer, Mayor Jerry Dehnbostel said.

"I hope it ain't a hot summer," said Tony Schuette, Wauseon high school's swimming coach who also is involved with some summer teams that use the city pool. "I'm more concerned about the kids' recreational use than I am about the teams. Kids learn to swim there. You got kids who don't know how to swim, you've got trouble down the road."

Chris Blanton, whose 9-year-old son joined the Wahoos diving team last year and who now is on that team's volunteer board, said leaders scrambled last week to find alternative venues after the city's pool-closing decision. The diving team now will use Napoleon's pool, while swimmers will use Delta's, he said.

The Wauseon pool's closing was disappointing, but not surprising, to Mr. Blanton.

"It's almost 70 years old, and it's in need of some major, major repairs. You can't keep throwing money at it," he said.

The pool closing also will mean no need for the 10 full-time and 10 part-time lifeguards the recreation department ordinarily hires for the season, Mr. Graf said.

Mayor Dehnbostel said city officials had "every intention" of opening the pool as usual this year until pre-season inspections began, revealing "a lot of bad spots" - some of which could be scooped out by hand - in its concrete walls.

"You could take a tablespoon and dig through the structure," Mr. Graf agreed.

Contractors' estimates for concrete patching and repainting started at $67,000, and that didn't cover plumbing repairs the pool also needed, the recreation director said. Furthermore, he said, none of the contractors queried about the repairs would offer any warranty.

"They weren't even sure [repairs] would get it through this year," Mr. Graf said.

Mr. Schuette said the pool's decay "could have been foreseen years ago" - and indeed it was: in 1997, Wauseon placed a 1-mill levy on the city ballot to finance 25-year bonds for a replacement. Officials warned at the time that they had doubts about their ability to keep repairing the existing pool.

But that $1,362,000 proposal was defeated, 681 to 489, an outcome Mr. Schuette blamed on the proposal being too elaborate, and thus overpriced.

Both he and Mr. Blanton said they hope the city eventually will replace the pool, but conceded that in the current economic climate, getting a levy passed would be difficult.

"I don't expect a levy to be high on people's agenda with the economy the way it is," Mr. Blanton said. "We can come back to it once the economy turns around. It's an important part of the community."

Mayor Dehnbostel said that while he anticipates replacing the pool, the soonest any levy would appear on the ballot is next year, "to see what kind of support there is in the community."

A "splash pad," which could offer any of a variety of water-park features, could be built at Reighard Park using the swimming pool's $100,000 annual budget, the mayor said.

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