Twisp Council cites costs, COVID uncertainty
It’s official: The Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp will not open for recreational swimming this summer.
The Twisp Town Council made that difficult decision at its meeting last week, after several weeks of postponing action in hopes that the state’s coronavirus restrictions would be eased enough to salvage some part of the 2020 season.
Council members learned last week that, even with some slight alterations to the state’s recovery and re-opening plan as it affects swimming pools – referred to as “Phase 1.5” – there was almost no likelihood that the pool could operate efficiently or accommodate its usual capacity in a severely shortened time frame.
The council’s action came reluctantly, albeit with some prodding by Mayor Soo Ing-Moody, who said a decision was needed.
Okanogan County is currently stuck in Phase II of the state’s recovery plan, with little hope that it can move to Phase III in the near term. The council had been hoping that Phase III might be possible sooner in the summer. Ing-Moody said that under another state option, the town could consider a partial re-opening, at 25% capacity with COVID precautions in place.
Okanogan County Community Health Director Lauri Jones, participating remotely, updated the council on a recent surge of COVID-19 cases – and the news was not good, including confirmation of a third coronavirus-related death in the county.
Jones said the county will not be qualified to be considered for Phase III anytime soon. She lamented that too many people “are acting like we’re into Phase IV.”
Noting the state’s restrictions on swimming pool usage, Jones asked “how do you decide who gets in the pool?”
“I see it as being problematic rather than a benefit to the community,” Jones said.
“We’re not going in the right direction … from where we started this [pool] conversation,” Ing-Moody acknowledged. She said the town has been “holding on” to the possibility of the pool’s opening, hoping the COVID case numbers would improve.
“I feel a decision is necessary,” the mayor said. She added, “tonight would be a better night to decide than in two weeks” at the next council meeting (July 28).
Sarah Schrock of Friends of the Pool, the nonprofit that supports the pool’s operations, said the organization would support the council’s decision, but expressed “dismay” that Friends of the Pool had not been engaged in discussion of the Phase 1.5 alternative. Schrock said she wasn’t sure a thorough enough evaluation of the pool’s operational costs, especially with reduced staffing, had been completed by the town to support a closure decision.
Ing-Moody said the town didn’t know about “the [Phase] 1.5” option until late June. She said that staffing is not the only cost consideration in re-opening the pool. Ing-Moody said under the state’s restrictions, the town would be offering only “a limited private pool situation.”
“It would benefit a handful of people,” she said.
Councilmember Aaron Studen said there was “no question” that it would be financially problematic to open the pool. He said at reduced capacity, the pool couldn’t generate enough revenue to support operations.
Move to close
In answer to a question about how quickly the pool could open, Public Works Director Andrew Denham said the pool is filled with water (to prevent the shell from drying out and cracking), and could be heated in a couple of days. Staffing is a bigger question, he said, because no lifeguards or other staff have been hired yet.
Jones posed another question the town should consider: If the pool is open, can Twisp reasonably anticipate and be ready to do everything necessary to keep it open?
“This is a different year than we’ve ever had,” Jones reminded the group. “So people can’t swim this year – I’m sorry.”
Studen, reiterating that “it’s blatantly obvious” that a workable solution is out of the town’s reach, moved to close the pool for this season. His motion was approved unanimously.
Studen lauded the Friends of the Pool for that group’s support and continued interest over the years.
The pool’s unavailability meant that the perennially successful Killer Whales swim team – which draws upward of 100 or more local kids each summer – had to cancel its season.
Earlier in the meeting, council member Hannah Cordes reported that, in her capacity as a council committee representative, she met with the Friends of the Pool board of directors. She said the organization is gathering public input to help determine “a vision for what the pool should be.” The aging pool has required annual repairs in recent years, and Friends of the Pool has been determinedly looking at alternatives for its replacement.