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Amherst Select Board questions whether two swimming pools are getting enough use

AMHERST — While more people used the two municipal swimming pools this summer than last year, Select Board members this week said they want to determine whether enough residents are using them for a community the size of Amherst.

Select Board member Alisa Brewer said Monday the attendance numbers do not seem to yet reflect the “hue and cry” from Town Meeting members who two years ago restored funding for operating the War Memorial Pool before town officials obtained a state grant to refurbish the 1950s-era structure.

“I’m not feeling the hysteria from the numbers,” Brewer said.

Though the total number of people using the pools for recreation, lap swims and swimming lessons rose to 7,484 this year, a 13 percent increase from the 6,606 in 2012, the average daily attendance actually dipped from 125 for each of the days open in 2012 — 65 at Mill River and 43 at War Memorial — to 113 for each of the 66 days both pools were open this year.

And Mill River, which had been the sole pool available to the public during the 2009 to 2011 summers, saw a nearly 17 percent drop in attendance, from 3,673 to 3,065 admissions, and average daily attendance at the North Amherst site declined from 57 to 46.

Select Board Chairwoman Stephanie O’Keeffe said the board wants to understand whether the 100 or so people a day using the pools is a reasonable number to expect for Amherst.

O’Keeffe questioned if reopening War Memorial, located near town center, had just divided the number of pool-users between each site, rather than expanding the number of users.

Town Manager John Musante said this was a good summer, observing that total memberships for the current year increased by 30 percent, from 439 to 571, with full-year memberships going from 251 to 456, or an 82 percent increase.

Still, Musante said that more can be done to get families and individuals to use the pools.

“The pools have a lot of capacity, and we want more people to come,” Musante said.

Linda Chalfant, director of Leisure Services and Supplemental Education, said having two outdoor pools means fewer children end up on the waiting list for swimming lessons.

“That is a big thing we hoped would be accomplished,” Chalfant said. “We are very pleased we can have two facilities available, and we encourage people to use them.”

The reopening of War Memorial Pool was accomplished through a $208,320 Parkland Acquisitions and Renovations for Communities state grant that covered 70 percent of the renovation cost after Town Meeting previously appropriated $89,280. The pool opened in July 2012.

Chalfant said having the downtown pool along with the North Amherst pool creates more accessibility for all families.

Still, Brewer said the numbers seem small and runs counter to the idea that the town would see a significant increase in swimmers when the War Memorial Pool reopened.

Chalfant said she would like to see growth, but notes different circumstances than existed 10 to 15 years ago, because there is a declining youth population as reflected in school enrollment.

Running two pools does cost more, as the appropriation this year is $189,386, a $104,131 increase from three years ago, when just Mill River was open. But $90,000 in anticipated fees from users would offset some of that increase.

Finance Director Sandy Pooler said he won’t know until next July whether that projection is correct. The town received $73,318 in fees during the fiscal year which ended June 30, more than the $64,995 projected, he said.

Musante said it is not always right to measure success in terms of money, swimming is a healthy activity for all ages and that the War Memorial and Mill River pools, along with the swimming hole at Puffer’s Pond, provide places for people to cool off.

“They help to make Amherst a nice community to live in,” Musante said.

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