Aquatic center deficit is concern with opening plan

ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand – If a plan to open the Aberdeen Aquatic Center moves forward as outlined to the city council this week, it will come with a significant cost.

Parks, Recreation and Forestry Director Mark Hoven presented the plan during Monday’s council meeting. It takes into consideration CDC recommendations in response to COVID-19. Here’s a quick look:

  • Opening would be divided into two, three-hour sessions, 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m. This would allow for cleaning in between sessions.
  • Attendance would be limited to 300 people per session. It could increase to 500 people per session as the season progresses. That’s significantly less than capacity, which is 1,400 people.
  • Staff would sanitize the tubes between uses on the lazy river.
  • The floating inflatable in the lap pool would not be installed.

If the filling of the pool starts this week, Hoven said, the aquatic center could open June 17. That’s later than the typical opening in late May, but time is needed to fill the pool, treat the water, bring it up to the appropriate temperature and train lifeguards, he said.

Hoven admitted having a limited capacity would be an issue on hot days. Once capacity is reached, he said, new swimmers would be allowed in as others leave.

Limited capacity would also mean a financial hit. During a normal season, revenue from aquatic center use covers about 95% of the operating costs. City Manager Lynn Lander said that won’t be the case this year. Revenue might cover 65% to 75% of operating costs. In a phone interview Tuesday, Hoven said that’s a loss of $75,000 to $150,000.

The council wasn’t asked for a decision about opening the center, but members were asked whether they feel opening is a necessity. On that issue, the council is divided.

Mayor Travis Schaunaman and councilmen Alan Johnson and Mark Remily spoke in favor of opening the pool. Schaunaman also noted that some cities have decided not to open.

Hoven said Sioux Falls and Rapid City will not open, but Huron and Mitchell will.

Johnson said summer temperatures are expected to be warmer than usual this year.

“I would favor the opening of the pool for reasons of comfort and quality of life,” he said.

Remily asked about baseball and softball and if there is a plan for those youth leagues.

Hoven said those city leagues for youth are starting in June. And organizers are working on a plan for youth soccer.

Councilman Josh Rife, the council liaison to the park and recreation board, said opening the pool makes sense. But if there is a substantial financial loss it will affect the future parks budget.

Councilman Rob Ronayne said he prefers not to see the pool open, partially because of financial concerns.

“Kids don’t social distance anyway,” Ronayne said. “It’s not the responsible thing to do.”

Councilman David Bunsness noted financial concerns, especially with so many unknowns yet on how much of a hit the city will see with sales tax revenues.

“I’m not sure why we would open not knowing what the impact would be on the city budget,” Bunsness said.

Hoven was asked if the potential loss in revenue could be absorbed elsewhere in the parks, recreation and forestry budget. He did not have an answer, but said smaller equipment purchases have been delayed.

There was discussion about having a special council meeting later this week, but no decision was made.

The Aberdeen Park and Recreation Board will meet in special session at 4 p.m. Wednesday to discuss whether to open the aquatic center. The meeting will be in the Eagles Nest at the Aberdeen Recreation and Cultural Center, 225 Third Ave S.E.

Storybook Land rides

Hoven said rides at Storybook Land are set to open Friday at 10 a.m. Sanitation stations will be in placed at all rides, he said, and employees will be wearing masks.

Additional sanitation measures will also be taken, including for the Storybook Land Express train.