Summer Swimming Pool Closures Reveal Critical Need

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On the brink of summer the swimming pool at Alf Sorenson Community Center in Sparks is slowly draining.

It closed last Thursday for repairs to the ceiling and upgrades to the heating and air conditioning system. It won't open until October.

Across town at Reno's Northwest Pool, they were still swimming Tuesday, but it will close Saturday for repairs to the building and also won't reopen until October.

The timing seems unfortunate, but there's logic behind it. Outdoor pools like Idlewild are set to open and can cover the summer months while the repairs are made. If they waited until fall, the area would be left with no pools operating.

And no one argues both pools need the work.

Those who watched Reno's Moana Pool slowly decline through years of deferred maintenance and no upgrades until it had to be abandoned and torn down, aren't anxious to see that happen again.

It does, however, make an already serious problem even worse. Even with the indoor pools up and running the Truckee Meadows has a serious lack of pools for a community its size.

"We have a drastic shortage," says Chip Hobson of Sierra Nevada Community Aquaitcs.

Hobson notes that the city's own study concluded Reno alone needed three or four more neighborhood pools in addition to a replacement for Moana.

Hobson's organization has been working to build a regional aquatics center ever since Moana closed in 2007. They have a plan, pared down from earlier concepts, but are still looking for funding.

Meanwhile, local parents are finding it more difficult to make sure their kids know how to swim.

Fewer pools mean fewer classes, few kids learning to swim

"Here in Reno you have to be really dedicated if you want to raise your kids as swimmers," says Lynnette Bellin.

Bellin drives her daughter to Carson City twice a week for a swim team and has paid as much as $90 dollars for swimming lessons for another child.

The lack of local pools is frustrating and a little puzzling.

"We have a water park downtown designed so that people can get in the water," Bellin points out. "I think it's critical people know how to swim.

Of course, behind all of this are years of budget cuts. Those cuts come first and deepest in parks and recreation, last on public safety, but some like Bellin and Hobson would argue this is a public safety issue.

"Drowning is the second cause of accident death among children younger than 16," notes Hobson who adds he worries every time he sees kids in the river he suspects don't know how to swim.. "It's a real crisis."

"I'd like to see the city embrace swimming and water safety as they have the arts," adds Bellin. "Make it grass roots. It has to be a priority."

But she notes she's yet to hear any of the crowd of mayoral candidates mention the issue.