November 16, 2004

The swimming pool boondoggle.

Madison has five lakes and many beaches, and it has private swimming pools that are undersubscribed, not to mention a short swimming season, but some public leaders here have long pushed for a lavish public swimming pool project. The current political momentum for the project has been generated from a private donor pledge of $2 million. Here's the description of the pool that is supposed to get us all enthused:
[T]he pool ... would offer something for everyone: The preferred option is a $4 million, 16,400-square-foot "family aquatic center" with capacity for 1,000 people. It would have an eight-lane, 25-meter lap pool with two diving boards, a pool with beach-style entry and water fountains for young children, a deep well pool with two waterslides, dressing and shower rooms, concession stands, a sand volleyball court, group shelters and a sand play area for young children with outdoor showers.
Something for everyone? Well, there's nothing for those of us who don't want to go swimming, but I assume there will be something for me in the form of a tax bill. Oh, but there are private donors? That description says it's a $4 million project, which is already twice what the donors are offering, and that project described sounds as though it's going to cost a lot more than $4 million. Even if the described fantasy pool could be built for $4 million and the full amount could be raised privately, there will be no end to the costs for maintainance, employees, insurance, and the like. One must be awfully naive not to see all the tax money that will flow into this huge pool. How about raising a private endowment that would actually pay for the ongoing costs of the luxury of maintaining a elaborate public pool in Madison? I'm tired of the public fawning over two donors whose donation is a small part of the real costs. It is as if these two have simply bought the right to direct public policy!

UPDATE: An emailer writes:
I think your concerns about the public swimming pool are spot on. I live in California, in a community that highly values its swim teams - summer is just not summer if we aren't at the pool every day for practice and every Saturday a.m. and Wednesday evening. for meets. An "aquatic center" was built several years ago on the grounds of our high school due to a large grant from a donor. It is a huge 20 lane or so pool, bleachers, changing facilities etc. plus 2 separate pools for warm-ups and water polo. From what I understand, the pool has consistently lost money every year, even though it gets $$ from user fees. Every year our swim league holds a huge 2 day meet there (1000 swimmers plus spectators) and even with the fees that meet generates the aquatic center can't break even. And the center is used year-round, due to our weather! You are right to be concerned.

That reminds me. I forgot to mention: our high schools already have indoor pools! Our high schools are terrific, by the way, and I don't mind paying taxes to make these schools great. Read about East High School here and West High School here.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I just fixated on the expression "family aquatic center." What an absurd phrase! Why say "aquatic center" instead of "swimming pool"? It's as if you wanted to be made fun of. And, more seriously, why "family"? If there is "something for everyone," why use a restrictive term? Are you trying to telegraph that this is about parents and young children, and no one else belongs here? (Ah, it would be so much cheaper for the city to just subsidize memberships at the private pools for lower income residents!) Or is "family" just a word that is supposed to mean "good, clean fun" or "uplifting, wholesome activity"? How I detest that cornball use of the word! But maybe the point is to make the place seem so hopelessly square that no teenager would want to set foot in the place and the parents with young children can feel warmly cosseted at the swank aquatic center.

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