Montpelier residents will be able to cool off in the municipal pool this summer after all.
The city council at its April 28 meeting approved a plan to reopen the popular summer resource by the first week in July.
The decision came two weeks after the council rejected a recommendation by city staff to keep the pool closed for a second straight summer due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic and the possible effect on the city’s licensed summer day camp.
Councilors unanimously approved a plan that will allow the pool to open but will keep day campers and the general public separate. The pool house will be reserved strictly for day campers, and the public will use a separate entry gate to access the pool. The pool itself will also be divided to keep the groups apart. Portable toilets will be added to the pool deck for use by the public.
City officials told councilors in their April 14 meeting that because of a shortage of staff, concerns over funding, and conflicts with the Recreation Department’s summer day camp program, the municipal pool would be better left closed. Councilors made it clear that wasn’t an option and directed staff to return April 28 with plans to reopen this summer.
In response, Assistant City Manager Cameron Niedermayer said she and Recreation Director Arne McMullen presented the council with three options for reopening. One would delay public use of the pool until after the close of day camp at 4:45 p.m. weekdays and extend the closing time to 8 p.m. The second, which was adopted by the council, would provide separate entrances and divide the pool itself to keep campers and non-campers apart. A third option would open the pool without restrictions.
The city also wants to require that all pool users wear masks when not in the water, regardless of the governor’s guidance at the time.
Concern about the health and safety of day campers was a prime factor in the recommendation to keep the pool closed, Niedermayer said. The pool building serves as the licensed day care facility for the summer day camp program, which cares for about 120 children each summer. The building provides campers with approved restrooms and acts as a shelter against inclement weather.
“The day camp is a licensed child care provider for a huge amount of people in our community,” Niedermayer said. “It’s a reliable, safe, and fun space for folks to get child care during the summer at a pretty affordable rate, and we really wanted to protect that and really wanted to have that as a community resource that wasn’t threatened by COVID-19 during the summer.”
City staff members also identified funding and staffing as barriers to reopening. The Rec Department has been short-staffed during the pandemic and there are concerns that hiring enough qualified lifeguards, many of whom are too young for the COVID vaccines, might be difficult.
To help with funding, Niedermayer said the city will also apply for a grant through Summer Matters, a federal program that seeks to provide enrichment opportunities for young people during the summer. The state received $1.5 million for the program. She said reopening was not tied to receiving a grant.
The pool consistently operates at a loss, meaning that fees don’t cover the costs, and Niedermayer said the city recommends a $1 increase in the price of a day pass to the pool.
At the April 14 meeting, councilors said reopening the pool was an important sign of recovery from the pandemic and bristled at what they perceived as a short-sighted decision to recommend closure, particularly as Gov. Phil Scott is slated by July 4 to lift his emergency orders requiring the wearing of masks in public (although it will still be encouraged) as well as lifting the limits on the size of gatherings.
District 3 City Councilor Dan Richardson said at the time he was “disappointed” with the lack of creative solutions considered by the staff.
The pool and the pool house need to be painted before reopening, McMullen said. The hope is that the pool will open the first week of July and run until August 22.