Local pools face challenging future

May 22, 2019

GERING — Even as Gering’s municipal swimming pool prepares for a May 25 opening, weather permitting, the city is looking to the future about its eventual replacement.

The current Gering pool was built in Oregon Trail Park in 1977, after the old pool on 10th Street south of the Union Pacific Depot was closed.

Gering City Council member Dan Smith learned to swim in the old pool.

“I think a community like Gering has a responsibility to maintain a pool where we can teach kids to swim,” he said. “Being able to swim is an important skill for kids to have because they’re always going to be around water.”

The topic of swimming pools has been in the news recently as the Scottsbluff school district voted to close the Splash Arena at the high school. Westmoor Pool and the Scottsbluff Family YMCA pool are also aging.

Some groups have come up with proposals to build a new aquatic center, but those plans seem far in the future.

“With the Splash Arena closing, I think the whole community is trying to figure out what we actually need in the area of indoor/outdoor pools,” Smith said. “Right now, everything is up in the air until some of these things settle out.”

Local groups have been active in keeping pool facilities open. Since 2016, the Splash Foundation, an organization associated with the Torpedoes, the Scotts Bluff County Swim Club, had been operating the Splash Arena on a volunteer basis through its foundation, supported by member families.

“Scottsbluff schools were taking care of maintenance and when some issues came up with the pool, the school didn’t see an end to them,” Smith said, “so they decided to close the pool.”

The Seacats, the combined swim team from Scottsbluff and Gering high schools, was using the Splash Arena for practice. The team is still competing, having worked out an agreement to practice at the YMCA.

Because the YMCA pool doesn’t have diving wells, Seacats competing in diving events must travel to Cheyenne, Wyoming, for practice.

For the short-term future, the community appears to have sufficient aquatic facilities. But that could change at any time.

“The Gering pool is in good shape for its age, but it still has issues,” Smith said. “It needs to be replaced but that kind of money isn’t in the budget right now. A new pool would probably need to be done through some kind of funding mechanism because they’re expensive to both build and maintain.”

Another consideration is keeping the pool staffed with lifeguards, especially at a time when local youth are busy during the summer with a wide variety of activities.

Smith said that so far, Gering hasn’t had a problem with hiring. This year, around 15-18 lifeguards will be on duty at the Gering pool. The base pay starts at $9.57 an hour for a first-year lifeguard, with raises for additional experience.

Gering has some funds set aside for a new pool when one becomes necessary. So far, the city has about 10% of the cost of a new facility. But that was based on numbers from five years ago.

In 2014, Gering commissioned the Florida-based company Sports Facilities Advisory to create a master plan for regional recreation and leisure services. While the plan didn’t include specific suggestions for Gering to consider for a future pool; a proposed design was included — one that would cost in the neighborhood of $2.1 million.

“The study liked the idea of keeping the pool in Oregon Trail Park,” Smith said. “It would make the baseball and softball facilities more attractive to people coming in for tournaments. That’s been a tourism project and it’s been very successful so far.”

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