Swimmers in Sherman may have to find a new reprieve from the summer heat this year. Officials with the city of Sherman announced Friday that they do not plan to open The Splash to the public this year amid staffing issues, budget concerns and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The future of the pool for the remainder of the season was a point of discussion during a budget talk during Monday night’s city council meeting. However, officials at the time said that they had not reached a consensus on when or if the pool would open in 2020.
"Our plan is not to open The Splash at this point," City Manager Robby Hefton said Friday morning. "There are several things to contribute to that and us not being able to get enough staff trained kind of led this off."
Traditionally, the pool would open the public for the Memorial Day holiday, however statewide mandates on pools and other attractions due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic left the pool shuttered until last Friday.
In the lead-up to the opening, the city typically would have conducted training for its lifeguards and staff and filled the pool. However, this did not take place due to the concerns and uncertainty on when or if the pool would be allowed open this year.
"We are already in June and in years past we would have already had The Splash open for a couple weeks now and everyone trained," Hefton said.
During Monday’s meeting, Parks and Recreation Manager Theresa Hutchinson estimated that June 26 would be the first day that they could open if they started training immediately.
Hutchinson said about 27 lifeguards were available to work the upcoming season with the late notice. Under that staffing, she estimated that the pool would be able to be open about four days a week, for six hours a day.
Another concern for the city is budgetary uncertainties that have bloomed due to the ongoing pandemic. City officials are expecting Sherman to see a budget shortfall in 2020, and potentially 2021, due to many businesses shuttering earlier this spring due to the pandemic.
Hefton said it is too early to determine the scope of the financial loss due to the pandemic, but the city is already taking steps to reduce its expenses. During Monday’s meeting staff noted that the pool does not make a profit for the city, and in fact has a net loss of about $350,000 annually.
"It (the shortfall) is really still an unknown right now and we are not going to know that for months," Hefton said. "We are not going to know the true impact for months.
"With the information we have at this point, we believe it is most prudent thing not open at this point for the safety of our employees and allow us to get into the economic impacts of COVID-19."
Safety was also a recurring concern for city staff in previous discussions. In addition to possible spread of the viral infection through close contact and common touch surfaces, Hefton said the pool would be open for limited crowds, which could lead to long lines outside the pool.
Hefton said city officials are looking to expand summer Parks & Recreation programming throughout the summer to make up for the closure of the pool, but did not give any specifics on what is currently being planned.
"We still want our Parks & Rec department to still fill that role, particularly during the summer time when the kids are out by providing programs for kids and families."
With the expanded Parks & Rec programming, Hefton said there could be opportunities for the lifeguards to work elsewhere in the department over the summer.
Outside of Parks & Rec, Hefton said the city is looking at other ways in which the former lifeguard could assist in the city’s COVID-19 response. These jobs could be covered under emergency funding that the city has received for COVID-19 response and would not impact the city’s budget.
"We hope that those positions would be available if those lifeguards, who are typically used to working at the splash, are interested."
The move by the city follows the decision by many municipalities across the state. Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said he has received a list of cities and their plans for municipal pools this summer. The vast majority have decided to close or significantly reduced the scope of operations for this year.
"The summary of that is that the majority of cities are not opening their pools, and those that are opening to any degree it is on a reduced scale," Strauch said.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.