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Sink or swim: City pool causes issues

April 17, 2017 Digital Media Exclusive

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Memorial Park Swimming Pool in Butler has been closed since August 2004. The cost to repair or replace the pool are prohibitive. Officials are considering their options.

With Butler’s community swimming pool vacant and abandoned for more than a decade, there is little or no hope that the city will ever see it — or anything like it — revived, according to elected officials and those familiar with the issue.

Memorial Park Swimming Pool has been closed since August 2004, when it was shuttered because of problems with its water filtration system and depth — the pool is too shallow and doesn’t meet state safety regulations. Both the pool and its bathhouse also were in dire need of repairs. A 2006 study by Pittsburgh-based Pashek Associates estimated the cost for that work at $250,000.

But members of the community weren’t ready to let the pool go, and council member Kathy Kline, in 2007, expressed hope that the pool would reopen the following year. Meanwhile, a fundraising group led by teachers at Broad Street Elementary School had began holding a series of events to raise money for the initiative. First the group honed in on repairing and reopening the pool itself, but that goal ultimately changed to converting the land into a spray park.

By 2011 the group — then known as Support our Spray Park — had raised about $25,000. But the pool remained closed and another study by Pashek Associates — this one done in 2014 at the urging of the Butler A.M. Rotary Club — came with more bad news.

That study pegged the cost of constructing a spray park at $800,000, and estimated that construction would take 15 months. Pashek’s report also concluded that it would cost $30,000 per year to run the water park — half of the $60,000 annual cost associated with operating a pool at Memorial Park, but still far too expensive for the city to handle.

The estimates represented tens of thousands of dollars Butler City didn’t have, said Dick Musko, a past president of the club who helped run its $500,000 project to construct a playground at Alameda Park in Butler Township from 2002 to 2005.

That fact hasn’t changed in the years since, say city officials. Butler managed to avoid predictions of fiscal catastrophe last year, but despite carrying a small surplus into its current budget, the city is still far from financially healthy. Elected officials say they don’t believe opening a pool or spray park is a reasonable goal.

“It’s a noble goal,” said Mayor Tom Donaldson. “Fiscally, I don’t think it (running a pool) is something the city will ever be able to do again.”

Donaldson pointed to the city’s large population of nonprofits and the high cost of providing public services as financial pressures. He also expressed concerns that a pool would ultimately cater more to delinquents and the jobless than taxpayers.

“With the large concentration of subsidized housing in the city, who are we opening the pool for?” Donaldson said. “The taxpayers or the people who are living off the backs of the taxpayers? Who’s going to be there?”

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