For the first time since the public pool was built nearly 40 years ago, the city of Buffalo will charge a nominal admission fee. Citing the need to begin saving for the eventual replacement of the pool and improvements to the current site, at the May 4 City Council meeting pool board members asked the council to consider charging admission for the pool.
On Tuesday evening, the Buffalo City Council unanimously passed a fee schedule proposed by the pool board. In the motion, the council stipulated that half of the profits would go toward a fund in the city of Buffalo Charitable Foundation earmarked for pool replacement, and the rest of the funds would go toward maintenance and infrastructure improvements.
“Either we start coming up with a plan to replace the pool in the future, or we keep it free and operate it right until it is no longer operational, and then it gets filled in,” council member Dan Hart said.
For now, the city will continue to pay for the pool’s operations costs out of its general fund in the amount of $86,700. But the city has the power to decrease that allocation if the pool generates healthy revenue from admissions.
“We will follow your lead and your direction on what you want to do,” pool board member Travis Lawrence said.
The fee schedule will consist of a $3 daily admission for patrons 3 and older; admission would be free for seniors over age 65 and veterans. Season passes would be available for $50 for an individual or $80 for a family of four; families could add additional members for $20 per member.
. Lawrence said the pool board drafted this proposal as a solution to address the issue of an aging pool, and “no one wants to see the pool go away.”
Public Works director Les Hook estimated that the lifespan of the pool is 20 years, though the lifespan of the pool’s filtration system is likely shorter. Lawrence said that he is not yet sure what the future holds, but he knows that the bill to replace the pool would cost the city at least $3 to4 million.
“People don’t quite understand that if you replace the pool, it is an ungodly amount. It is a large bill,” pool board member Richard Wonka said. “If people really understood how the pool operates and all that is required to have it function properly, they would say you can’t charge enough.
Lawrence addressed a common misconception that donor Kathryn Holt specified at the time of her $100,000 donation to the Buffalo Charitable Foundation’s pool fund that the asset remain free to the public. In fact, the language from the estate stipulated for the pool to either remain free, or charge customers the smallest fee possible to help offset other costs. Wilbur Holt also contributed $150,000 to the foundation to help run the pool in perpetuity.
The pool board’s wish is that the $250,000 in the foundation would serve as seed money to fund future replacement, though it is not nearly enough capital right now, according to Lawrence.
Lawrence said that, logistically, the pool board should be able to start charging this summer, when the pool opens in June. He is working with the city to alter the fence to direct pedestrian traffic to the pool’s concession stand, so people would need to pass through an entrance gate. An additional employee would not be required to accept payment at the concession stand.
Profits from the concession stand go to the city’s general fund, but it earns less than $3,400 a year after the cost of supplies.
Lawrence said that the goal of the pool board is to keep the plan simple right now, but that he has seen some grassroots support for providing aid or assistance for families that might not be able to afford a pool pass. Hopefully, he said, those people will come forward.
“I would hate the thought of filling in that pool with dirt,” Wonka said. “You won’t be able to get enough donations for it; you have to invest early and plan ahead.”