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Will Interactive Fountains Replace Public Swimming Pools?

SULPHUR SPRINGS - How would you classify the status of municipal swimming pools? To one local city official, they’re on the verge of extinction.

“I predict that in the future there will be no such thing as a municipal pool anymore. It will go the way of horses and buggies and we’ll have splash pads and interactive fountains all over the United States,” says Marc Maxwell, city manager for Sulphur Springs, which debuted its interactive fountain ahead of the July 4 holiday.

“They’re using it day and night,” Maxwell chuckled. “The fountain is on from 8 in the morning until midnight.”

Located on the newly renovated downtown square, which also plays host to the Hopkins County Veterans Memorial unveiled on June 30, the interactive fountain forms the shape of the Texas Star and is illuminated at night with ultra violet light.

One year ago, Sulphur Springs had no water venue. Citing a lack of economic viability, the city shut down its pool in March 2011 after more than 50 years of service. Officials said they felt it would be imprudent to continue to operate the facility as operating expenses had increased while use of the facility decreased.

It’s a similar issue down the road in neighboring Commerce, where officials are trying to make do with an aging and, in some areas, deteriorating facility.

“Those kids that use that pool sometimes that’s their only entertainment for the summer and its good exercise for them,” Commerce City Manager Marc Clayton said. “It is an expense that the city will have to look at one of these days though because there’s no way you can charge enough admission to offset the cost of running a city pool.”

Of the increasing costs are chemicals to treat the water and the need for a certain number of lifeguards on duty to keep patrons safe. They’re costs that rarely equal revenue growth, according to Clayton.

“I think one reason you see some cities around that are closing their pool is you can never reach a break-even point; or it doesn’t look like we can here anyway.

To try and curtail these expenses, hours of operation at the Commerce City Pool have been shortened from Thursday through Sunday. Average attendance is from 30 to 50, similar to what the city experienced last year.

Back in Sulphur Springs, which also has a splash pad at Pacific Park, kids are finding a way to have fun and keep cool during the hot summer months at little cost to the city. There is no wage to pay lifeguards, and little maintenance needed on the two water venues.

While the city is not staffing these facilities with paid staff, the interactive fountain and splash pad are typically frequented by the parents of the kids who use them. And they aren’t on terribly late.

For city pools, however, safety is a much bigger concern.

One year ago this week, 9-year-old Diamond Bronston drowned at the Commerce Swimming Pool after managing to get through the closed chain fence outside of business hours. She was found submerged in 13 feet of water by the time emergency personnel arrived that Sunday morning.

“We’re in full compliance it was just a very, very unfortunate episode,” Clayton said.

And as Commerce continues to try and keep operations safe and feasible, there is talk of exploring an attraction that is of little maintenance and cost effective.

“Our current mayor, Dr. John Ballotti, came by and visited me the other day about how he’d seen it work in a different location – a city that had an aging pool – and they actually converted into kind of a walking water park with fountains in it. It was only four foot deep but it had channels where kids and people could play and the maintenance becomes very, very reduced.”

Clayton cautions that there is some expense on such a conversion, but notes that the city pool will continue to deteriorate and will require some type of work down the road.

The topic could be addressed as council works toward drafting a budget for the next fiscal year. That process got underway this week.

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