Grassroots group hopes to save and sustain WSCC pool

February 10, 2024

Grassroots group hopes to save and sustain WSCC pool

VICTORY TOWNSHIP — A group of citizens that was formed last year to save West Shore Community College’s swimming pool is committed to also sustaining the pool. Friends of the Pool was formed in September 2023 after the college’s leadership began discussing the possibility of closing the pool.

The college Board of Trustees held its first discussion about the fate of the pool during its regular monthly meeting on Jan. 15, 2024. But, conversations about the future of the popular recreational facility began many months prior.

“The college board finally came out and formally addressed some of the issues with the pool at its last meeting,” said Tom Kalina, one of the organizers of Friends of the Pool. “The issues that came up were primarily staffing, utilization and meeting its costs.”

In September 2023, WSCC President Scott Ward stated to MCP: “The pool is at the end of its life. It is likely that we are looking at full replacement of the pool, not renovations or repairs. We’ve known this is coming for awhile. I think that the due diligence of the college is to look at all options. One of those options is to close the pool. Another is to replace it.”

The WSCC Recreation Center was opened in 1975. The center houses the college Wellness Center, arena, racquetball courts and an olympic-size swimming pool. The facility had a major upgrade in 2014 when the locker rooms and hot tub area were renovated.

Ward said the swimming pool (which is mostly funded through property taxes) annually has an approximate $100,000 loss in revenue.

“We have had a challenge with the swimming pool beyond infrastructure,” Ward said. “For the past several years we have been unable to hire an adequate number of lifeguards, for example. This limits the operating hours of the pool. However, we still have to pay for its upkeep. We have also seen a general drop in usage of the pool by the general public.”

However, members of Friends of the Pool say they believe the college has made access to the pool more difficult for the public, causing an intentional drop in usage.

“The swimming pool makes roughly $30,000 over the year,” Kalina said. “There are about $143,000 in direct expenses related to the pool. That’s a $115,000 deficit. But, you compare that to the $7.5 million that we, the taxpayers, give to that college, that’s about 1.5 percent of what we give, to maintain that swimming pool. Plus, when you compare the overall net loss of that college, the pool represents 3/4 of 1 percent. It’s a community college. Their slogan is ‘community plus college.’ Well, we are the community.”

Cathy Schindler, another organizer of Friends of the Pool, said since the COVID pandemic, the college has eliminated most programming at the pool. Additionally, those who use the pool for lane swimming must reserve a spot and only six people are allowed to use the pool at one time.

“The college says that it can’t staff the swimming pool,” Schindler said. “But, we have several people in our group who are willing to volunteer to be lifeguards. They are certified or are willing to be certified. Additionally, there are more efficient ways to operate the lane swim, allowed more people to be in the pool at one time.”

For 45 years the pool was utilized for family swimming, children’s pool parties, swimming lessons, water aerobics, aqua therapy, and many other types of exercise.

“None of that happens anymore,” Schindler said. “The college doesn’t even offer any type of swimming classes to its own students.”

Both Kalina and Schindler utilize the pool several times a week and have witnessed the decline.

“We live in an area that is surrounded by water,” Schindler said. “We have Lake Michigan and dozens of inland lakes. But, yet our community college, in which we support with our tax dollars, no longer offers its facility to teach children or adults how to swim. We really need that programming back at our college.”

Kalina said an audit conducted by the college has revealed that there are several options to renovating the pool.

“It seems that the college wants to go with the most expensive option, when, in reality, it doesn’t need to go with that option,” Kalina said. “The bones of that building and of that swimming pool are in great shape. Over the last 49 years the college has done a great job maintaining and upgrading the facility.”

Kalina said college leadership has stated that there are other pools in the area that the public could utilize. In Mason County the only other public swimming pool is the Donald Baldwin Community Pool at Ludington Area Schools. However, that pool is utilized by the school and the facility isn’t comparable to WSCC. Another nearby pool is the Payne Aquatic Center at Manistee Area Public Schools. Those pool are paid for specifically by taxpayers in their respective school districts while the college’s pool is paid for by taxpayers of the entire college district.

“Once that pool is gone, it’s never coming back,” Kalina said. “It is part of our quality of life in this community and it is part of the college’s mission. Community colleges are not meant to make a profit. They are community assets funded by the people.”

Friends of the Pool has increased public awareness of the pool’s possible fate. The group recently attended the Brrrewfest in downtown Ludington where members wore placards to raise attention.

“Many people were not aware of what’s going on with the pool,” Schindler said. “It’s incredible the amount of people that we talk to who have utilized that pool at various stages in their lives. Once we explain the issue almost everyone is completely supportive.”

Expressing support is one thing, but being involved is key, Kalina said.

“We are encouraging members of the public to write a letter to the editor to the local news organizations and also to send that letter to the college’s Board of Trustees.”

Schindler cautioned that pool advocates need to remain civil. Threatening board trustees or college administrators is unacceptable behavior, she said.

“We want to have a positive relationship with the college,” Schindler said. “Our intention is to eventually become an organization that will work alongside the college in an effort to sustain the pool.

“Our group is willing to raise funds to support programming and specialized equipment costs,” Schindler said. “We are also willing to help organize programs to take some of the burden off of the college, similar to what Friends of the Ludington State Park does at the state park. We want to work with the college and assure that this pool lasts at least another 50 years.”

The next meeting of the college Board of Trustees will be on Monday, Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.

Friends of the Pool is a charitable non-profit organization. For more information, call 843-830-8943 or email friendsofthepoolwscc@gmail.com. The group also has a Facebook page.

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