Roeland Park residents fret about uncertain future for year-round pool operations as end of joint agreement with Johnson County Park and Recreation nears

Citizens getting a tour of the dome back in 2014. Photo via Roeland Park on Facebook.
Citizens getting a tour of the dome back in 2014. Photo via Roeland Park on Facebook.

By Holly Cook

Johnson County residents expressed dismay Monday at the possibility of the Roeland Park Aquatic Center discontinuing its indoor season following the completion of a joint agreement that divides pool costs between Roeland Park and the Johnson County Park and Recreation District. Residents discussed the future of the pool during Roeland Park’s Community Forum Monday night.

Without JCPRD funding, which is set to end in May 2019, the pool’s year-round operation would cost Roeland Park $335,853. Summer-only operation would still create a yearly deficit of $114,395.

Michelle Alexander, Recreation Manager at Johnson County Park and Recreation District, said that while JCPRD was not interested in continuing the agreement as it stands, it was open to negotiating a new agreement with Roeland Park. Alexander said JCPRD remains “committed to Roeland Park and the pool.”

Alexander said while the “bones of the pool” were solid, the Aquatic Center would need expensive upgrades in the near future, including a complete replacement of the pool’s dome which could cost between $200,000 and $400,000. The heater/blower which inflates the dome and allows the pool to remain open in the winter was recently replaced for $140,000. The city and JCPRD also spent about $57,000 in 2016 to repair the bulkhead and paint the pool.

Gardner Howland, head coach of the Kansas City Blazers Swim Team, pointed out that very few pools nationwide operate without creating a deficit.

Howland noted that the recent high-priced improvements to the pool will last for many years.

“I think it would be fool hearted to close it now,” Howland said.

Roeland Park City Assistant Manager Jennifer Jones-Lacy agreed that pools were not considered “revenue-generators” and generally require some sort of city or county subsidy.

Roeland Park councilmember Becky Fast said it was important to highlight the Aquatic Center was different than other pools in the community and that its absence would be felt.

Howland agreed with Fast and noted that other pools in the area only had few devoted swimming lanes and were too warm for training.

“It’s an incredibly versatile pool,” Howland said.

Jackson County resident Leslie Eden said she is happy to travel to Roeland Park to use the Aquatic Center because “there is no facility like this.”

While JCPRD may be scaling back its involvement with the Roeland Park Aquatic Park they are in talks to operate a brand new facility in Lenexa. In August 2016 the Shawnee Mission School District gave preliminary approval to JCPRD to operate its planned $20 million aquatic center, which is expected to open in Fall 2018. That 1,500-seat natatorium will be constructed on land donated by Lenexa at 87th Street and Penrose Lane.