Boulder Aquatics Feasibility Study

Finally Done… and Put on the Shelf!

The Boulder Aquatics Feasibility Study had been a line item in the Boulder Parks and Recreation (BPR) CIP budgeting process since at least 2012. That delay kept any significant maintenance to Boulder pools “on hold” while addressing other high priority needs such as the $2M allocated to upgrading the golf course sprinklers.

The results of this study are:

  • We heard the community clamor for more pool time.
  • Boulder is the premier provider of aquatic services in the region.
  • All the Boulder pools need deficiencies corrected.
  • The community wants a competitive venue but Boulder doesn’t have the money to build one (but can dig up $42M in assets to secure a loan for the Boulder Medical Center Property). So they will explore: “To address unmet community needs related to aquatics facilities,… the department will further explore the vision scenarios provided by the Aquatics Feasibility Plan.
  • The good news is:
    • That the building of a competitive venue is not summarily dismissed.
    • A spot has been designated in the Valmont Park Plan for a competitive venue – not close to any Boulder HS, however, so allocation of pool time will probably be “Stazio’d” (prioritized for adults)
  • Each recreation center is currently “physically constrained” which negates for expansion of the pool to a 50meter size.
    • Yes, each rec center current pool footprint does not allow for expansion.
    • HOWEVER, the physical constraints the BPR identified (parking lots, man-made lakes, retaining walls, solar collection arrays) are not insurmountable engineering feats to overcome for a re-rec center expansion to a 50 meter pool!

The Devil in the DETAILS: BPR wants to charge User Groups more money to use pools during peak hours for the following rationale:

  • The citizens of Boulder would like “More Open Lap Swimming”
  • Which the BPR took to mean reallocate (the already time limited) existing user groups, or historically identified by BPR as “partners,” to allow for more Open Swimming time.
  • However, BPR overlooked identifying or addressing a well-known quirk of the Boulder Open Swim community – our lap swimmers don’t like to share lanes – they expect private pool service levels at pubic pool prices. Perhaps lap lane oversight could encourage sharing without squeezing the swim teams down to fewer lanes and less time? Or, perhaps Spruce remaining open will increase capacity.
  • RESULT: BPR will “develop pricing strategies” that will glean more money from, mostly likely, families with kids that swim and participate in aquatic sports, because that is another strategy of BPR – youth sports are a cash cow to the department with over a 200% return on cost. Historically, that extra money pays for activities that lose BPR money, such as the pottery lab. The BPR exact words (think swim teams, water polo and synchro):
    • Premium pricing – The price set is high to reflect the exclusiveness of the product. An example of this would be a user group paying higher rental fees for the exclusive use of a facility that prohibits the general public or other groups from participating.

Things the 52 Full-Time Equivalents (more employees than most small businesses) could implement to increase pool usage during non-peak hours:

  • Partner with BVSD in “Learn to Swim Programs” for one half-day of swim lessons per week for full-time kindergarteners
  • Partner with BVSD for middle school PE units such as water-noodle water polo, aqua basketball and aqua climbing walls.
  • More aqua fitness classes at South Boulder Rec Center

So, here is the issue with Boulder-alone building a competitive venue:

  1. Boulder already operates five aquatic centers (and they need repair).
  2. A question I am often asked, “Doesn’t Boulder have enough pools?”
  3. The answer, truthfully, is yes – we have sufficient pool facility supply for our Boulder population.
  4. But, because pool time is now labeled as an “exclusive product” during peak hours, BPR is investigating increasing the price to use their pools.
    1. Basic economics: Price increases drive useage down for people who cannot afford to use /pay for the product (think families with children)
    2. As a result fewer kids will be swimming and have more idle/screen time or, worse yet, our carbon footprint is expanding:
    3. There is no extra capacity in the Boulder pool allocation to accommodate NEW user groups such as New water polo or synchro or swim teams. So families are driving (and carpooling) out of Boulder to VMAC in Thornton or the YMCA in Lafayette for youth aquatic programming.

In summary:  Boulder Parks and Rec (BPR) could be a valuable partner with BVSD or CU or BoCo to operate a natatorium and should be include in an Aquatics District if that is the direction BoCo CAPS will take.

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