Shawnee expects to lose nearly $500K to open Soetaert pool under COVID-19 restrictions this summer

Shawnee announced June 15 that it will not open Thomas A. Soetart Aquatic Center this summer. Photo courtesy City of Shawnee.

With Shawnee planning to open the Soetaert pool this summer, city staff anticipate losing nearly half a million dollars by subsidizing 79% of operational costs.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, city staff expect to slash by more than half the number of guests allowed at the Thomas A. Soetaert Aquatic Center at one time. In a follow-up with the city council Tuesday evening, Sean Keenan, aquatics manager, said this will result in significant cuts in anticipated revenue through pool admission and concessions, and zero revenue from pool membership sales that will not be offered because of the uncertainty surrounding this pool season. Shawnee’s aquatics program normally has 110,000 to 140,000 patrons each season. This season, Keenan expects to have maybe 10,000, in part because the pool will be open to Shawnee residents only.

Estimated revenues this pool season are about $129,000, while estimated costs are about $622,000, putting the city at a loss of about $493,000.

Keenan said that in a typical season, the city subsidizes about 16-20% of aquatics — about $180,000-$250,000.

Mayor Michelle Distler and some councilmembers raised concerns about the loss.

“I mean, we know we all love our pools; they’re one of our best amenities in the city. Everybody loves them,” Distler said. “But half a million dollars for a few weeks, that’s a loss. I know they rarely break even, but that’s pretty substantial.”

The city has already spent about $171,000 of the $622,000 in total estimated expenses, mostly for things like pool maintenance and annual full-time staff payroll.

Staff: Soetaert pool must open by June 29 or not at all

Pools may open no sooner than June 8 in Phase 3 of the Ad Astra plan, but the city anticipates opening June 15. However, opening the Soetaert pool depends on if state and local authorities relax social distancing requirements in order to conduct lifeguard training. Keenan said lifeguard training must be allowed by June 15 so the pool can open by June 29. If it doesn’t, then the pool will not open this summer.

Once Soetaert Aquatic Center opens, only 552 people are allowed entry at a time, down from the normal bather load of 1,428, Keenan said, citing social distancing guidelines. Only 45 people will be allowed in each of Soetaert’s three bodies of water, which means only 135 can swim at the same time.

The new pool rules would also require staff and patrons to follow several health and safety measures, as prescribed by the Scientific Advisory Council of the American Red Cross:

  • Social distancing of 6 feet will be required in changing areas, on the pool deck and in the pool
  • Cloth face coverings must be worn by staff and patrons when not in the water
  • A total of 64 deck chairs must be spaced 6 feet apart and cannot be moved
  • Hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout the facility
  • Shared items for patron use, like life jackets and lounge chairs, will be cleaned
  • All staff and patrons will be pre-screened with symptom-related questions and a temperature check prior to entry, and entry will be denied to anyone who doesn’t pass the screening (refunds will be issued)

Councilmembers gave differing perspectives on the decision to open the pool this season. Some felt it’s worse to close the pool because children and families need something to look forward to. Others voiced concerns from residents who believe too much of a burden is placed on the teens and young adults running the aquatics program.

“I did have several constituents… express their concerns for what they perceived as a little bit of callousness on behalf of the council and the city of even thinking about moving forward,” said Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell. “We’re working primarily with minors, and we are enticing them essentially with a summer job and a salary and we are asking them to risk their health so that our residents can enjoy the pool. They thought that’s a big ask.”

Keenan noted the tentative staffing levels are lean, so if staff were to take time off, either from exposure to infection or contracting the virus, then the pool would have to operate with reduced hours or amenities to compensate.

The pool season ends on Labor Day, Sept. 7.