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Local

Council split on Maytag Pool closure

3-3 vote on two separate motions leaves the city rec option in limbo until next meeting

A swimmer relaxes in the waters of Maytag Pool. Newton City Council members were split on whether to close the pool for the 2020 season, which was recommended by city staff.
A swimmer relaxes in the waters of Maytag Pool. Newton City Council members were split on whether to close the pool for the 2020 season, which was recommended by city staff.

Council members don’t know whether to close or open Maytag Pool this season.

This resulted in two failed actions during an online Newton City Council meeting held Tuesday via Zoom. Based on the current information known about COVID-19 and the expected low quality experience thanks to heavy distancing restrictions, city staff recommended council approve the closure of Maytag Pool.

However, a split, 3-3 vote ensured that motion did not pass.

An amended motion also proposed the pool remain closed, but only until June 15. By that time, councilman Mark Hallam suggested the city council can re-evaluate its decision to close or open the remainder of the pool 2020 season. This action was motioned first and also received a 3-3 vote. It, too, failed.

Newton City Council is expected to revisit Maytag Pool on June 1.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds announced pools could reopen again with increased restrictions after May 29. At this time, only lap swims and swimming lessons are allowed. Free swims are prohibited, and all pools, spas, wading pools, slides, spray pads and bath houses in Iowa are still to remain closed.

Knowing how restricted their procedures would be, City of Newton staff pitched two ideas to council members: 1. The pool would open in some capacity; or 2. The pool would remain closed this year.

Between those two scenarios, city staff recommended council approve the latter and close the pool. Community Services Manager Brian Laube had previously explained to council and the Newton Park Board about seriously considering the pool’s closure. Maintaining staff was beginning to become a problem.

Some lifeguards had already found another job, Laube said. Parents also had called to tell community services division staff they did not want their kids to work at the pool this summer. If the pool opened, the city would have to pay for heavy duty cleaning supplies, preventing younger staffers from using them entirely.

Regardless, Maytag Pool could not open at its full capacity of 600 people. Based on the amount of guests and employees who could safely fit in the pool’s storm shelter — provided they remain six feet away from each other — only 49 people, including staff, could reside on pool grounds at one time, Laube said.

However, only six swimmers could participate in lap swims if Maytag Pool were to open.

Ticket admissions would be set at two-hour blocks. The fee schedule would be thrown out the window. Concession items would be limited to bottled water and soda. Pre-season, in-service training for lifeguards would be difficult, too, though Laube did consider partnering with the YMCA to set up training sessions.

But even that still requires lifeguards make person-to-person contact. If the pool opened in some capacity, the city estimated a $31,000 decrease in ticket revenue. Filling the pool for limited use has substantial fixed costs, too. When not in the pool, staff and guests would have to wear masks at all times.

Laube said the rules of pools are very direct, black-and-white. Swimmers can do and cannot do certain things. No diving in shallow water. No running. You must be this tall to do such and such. But the pool guidelines beset by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on the other hand, are vague.

These rules by the CDC also are not mandatory, Hallam pointed out. For instance, the wearing of masks and six-foot distancing are only recommendations. Laube said the grayness of the suggested guidelines are not conducive to a swimming pool setting, which needs clear direction.

Jamie Murphy, assistant superintendent of park operations, said most of her concerns are for lifeguards. Those staff members may have chosen to apply for the job but they did not choose the type of situation they are in. Murphy said it’s not right to put lifeguards at risk in order to let 30 or so guests in at a time.

“I think regardless of whether restrictions are lifted, that’s what it’s going to be for the summer,” she said. “I don’t see it being groups larger than 50 any time soon. We can’t hold more than that with the deck space we have available.”

Knowing all this, council members could not reach a majority vote.

Newton Mayor Mike Hansen weighed in on both sides of the issue. Because there are still new things being learned about COVID-19, as well as a fair amount of unknown factors, he said city staff’s recommendation to close Maytag Pool is the right decision, “unfortunately.”

City council members who disagreed largely felt citizens should make their own decisions to enter the pool. Even though councilman Craig Trotter believes the virus is serious, he struggled with closing the popular summer recreation. Come late June, he said, the city council would regret its decision.

“I think we’d be foolish to close this,” Trotter said.

Councilman Randy Ervin said the pool is a lifesaver for families who want entertainment. Youth activities and community events are already limited, he argued. Although he, too, is struggling to decide, Ervin said the council should allow residents to use the pool if they so choose.

Hallam agreed and offered another solution, which inevitably did not pass. As of the Monday meeting, the governor’s orders allow lap swimming and swimming lessons, but Hallam said Maytag Pool should not open for those activities alone. He said it is a bit premature to close for the entire season at this point in time.

Other cities across the state have already announced pool closures. Algona, Boone, Cedar Rapids, Charles City, Clear Lake, Clive, Davenport, Estherville, Iowa City, Marion, Osceola, Perry, Sergeant Bluff, Sioux City, Story City and Winterset, among others, have already closed their pools.

“It’s starting to snowball across Iowa,” Laube said.

Councilman Steve Mullan said people are receiving mixed messages about the virus. He would love to have something available for young people this summer but is learning toward people making their own decisions.

Councilwoman Evelyn George’s biggest concern is how much the city would have to reduce the number of citizens who could participate in any pool activities. The experience would be “so restricted.” Now is the time, she said, for park staff to focus on summer activities with more reasonable distancing restrictions.

“There are too many unknowns,” she said.

George, Mullan and councilman Dean Stonner were in favor of closing the pool but against the amended motion. Ervin, Hallam and Trotter were in favor of the amended motion but against closing the pool.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

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