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Prospects poor for pool opening; future murky

Spray park will open Saturday

The Central Blair Recreation & Park Commission plans to open Juniata Memorial spray park Saturday, Blair County’s second day in the green phase of coronavirus reopening, but Prospect Pool is likely to remain closed this summer.

And its long-term future has become murky, according to information provided at a City Council meeting this week.

Because of uncertainty created by COVID-19, the commission couldn’t prepare for opening the pool as it does normally, which means now that the pool couldn’t open until the end of June — making it hardly worthwhile, because a month or so later, camps for football and other activities would begin drawing kids away, said Councilman Matt Cacciotti, the commission chairman.

Opening the pool would also mean additional costs for maintenance and staffing, Cacciotti said.

“The pool has become a real money-sucker,” Cacciotti said.

After opening, staffing expenses would be aggravated by the need for workers to enforce social distancing, he said.

That would mean limiting the number of patrons who could use the pool at any one time, leading to lines outside with patrons spaced apart, and decisions that would need to be made about whom to admit, as groups exited whose numbers didn’t match the numbers of the next group in line to enter, Cacciotti said.

What if a mother is waiting outside with two children and a mother leaves with just one child, he asked rhetorically. That means the mother would need to leave one of her kids behind or defer to another group of only two waiting in line, he indicated.

It would be “an administrative nightmare,” he said. “Really impractical.”

The limitation on numbers would also reduce revenue earned, he added.

It also has become increasingly difficult to obtain certified lifeguards, especially if they would be employed for only a little more than a month, according to Cacciotti and Councilman Bruce Kelley.

Normally, the pool opens Memorial Day weekend, Cacciotti said.

Accordingly, the commission is most likely to focus on other programs and activities for the summer, Cacciotti said.

The pool is probably near the end of its useful life, according to City Manager Ken Decker, a commission member.

It may be time to look for grant funding to renovate it, although the renovation bill may be “shockingly high,” Decker said.

Even with the help of grant money, the pool is likely incapable of generating enough money to cover capital replacement costs, Decker said.

Ultimately, the commission may need “to ride the horse until it’s dead,” he stated.

When that happens, it might make sense to transform the pool into a spray park, suggested Councilman Dave Butterbaugh.

The commission did that with Juniata Memorial Pool after it closed in 2010, after learning the filtration system needed to be replaced.

It opened the spray park on that site in 2015.

Then commission Chairman Erik Cagle suggested the spray park as an alternative to rebuilding the pool, because they are cheaper to operate, eliminate concerns with drowning and are popular with children.

Prospect Pool underwent a major renovation in 2004 and 2005, triggered by the necessity of closing it that first year because the Altoona Water Authority was replacing its adjacent Prospect Park distribution tank.

The pool renovations included a new filtration system, upgrades to the bathhouse, sandblasting and crack repairs to the pool, repairs to the deck and replacement of the lifeguard stand and diving board.

The commission needed to extend the closure through 2005 to deal with a roof beam problem in the filter house.

There was another renovation in 2012, with new plumbing fixtures and stalls in the bathhouse, new lighting inside and out, roof repairs and new picnic tables, umbrellas, grills and outdoor chairs.

Juniata Memorial spray park will be open from noon to 5 p.m. daily, according to a commission news release. Admission is $2 for everyone who’s at least 2 years old.

The commission is accepting reservations for birthday parties and private parties that can take place between 5:30 and 8 p.m. during the week.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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