Some pools back to pre-COVID levels this year, others struggled with staffing

Summer-only attractions continue bounce-back from two years of COVID impact

For most area swimming pools, this summer marked a return to form when it came to attendance compared with the pre-COVID summer of 2019.

Vandalia spokesman Rich Hopkins said attendance numbers at the city-operated Cassel Hills Pool rebounded this summer to give it a “typical year,” with patrons returning at the same levels as they did before the pandemic.

“We were able to open the numbers back to what they were pre-COVID,” Hopkins said. “It’s one of those weather-related attractions, and so when the weather’s nice, folks are going to swim, and that was pretty much what happened in 2022.”

In talking with local residents, it appears “folks are ready to get back to normal,” Hopkins said.

“I don’t think anybody was surprised that we’ve rebounded the way that we have,” he said. “A lot of the folks that use our centers, use our golf course, use our pool, are people who’ve done it for years, and so there’s a comfort level there, and once they were assured that COVID was kind of at least on the downswing, there was a comfort level of coming back.”

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Ken Paxson, spokesman for the city of Kettering Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Department, said that city’s Adventure Reef Water Park saw attendance numbers of 56,000 in 2019, then 37,500 in 2021 and 39,000 this year.

“The water park was open daily this season and the demand was certainly there, but we did have to limit hours because of the staffing shortage that we are all experiencing,” Paxson said. “We have already started recruiting for both seasonal and year-round positions. Our goal is to grow staff and continue this upward trend in attendance, not only at the water park but for fitness, sports leagues, the Kettering Ice Arena, Rosewood Arts Center and the Habitat Environmental Center.”

Miamisburg Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Davis said 2022 saw mixed results at the city’s Sycamore Trails Aquatic Center.

“This year was a better year for us in in some ways and then a worst year in other ways, which is probably the classic COVID story,” Davis said. “Our attendance was down probably 15% to 20% from 2019, but our revenue was probably that same number — 15% higher.”

The city raised prices this year for the first time since 2017, taking admission from $3.50 to $5, not because of inflation, but because Miamisburg was “kind of behind, kind of playing that catch-up game.”

A new splash pad was under construction all year, but won’t be ready until next season because the city is waiting on parts to arrive, Davis said.

Another big variable this season was staffing levels, he said.

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“(In) 2021, it was pretty difficult to get enough lifeguards to run the pool at full capacity all the time,” he said. “This year, we had a good year in terms of staff, we had a great group of staff members, we had good numbers. We still had days where you have random call-offs and things like that.”

But instead of closing down for such staffing shortages like it did in 2019, the pool instead opted to operate but at a lesser capacity.

“There were a couple of days where it was 90 degrees, but we only had 12 staff members instead of our normal 16, so we limited capacity to 250 people instead of leaving it kind of wide open, so to speak,” he said. “I think that’s just kind of our new operating model is do the best we can to make sure it’s a safe, high quality experience, but the staffing kind of drives the boat on that, so it’s a little difficult to do apples-to-apples attendance and all those kinds of things when some of those systematic operational changes have taken place.”

The Tippecanoe Family Aquatic Center experienced “a great year” in summer 2022, City Manager Tim Eggleston said.

Numbers on receipts at the Aquatic Center at Tipp City Park showed end of season at $365,478, an increase from $285,244 in 2021 and $341,508 in 2019. The center was closed in 2020 due to COVID-19. This year’s receipts were the highest since 2015, according to a report from John Green, city finance director.

“As we say every year, pool revenues are completely weather-driven,” Green wrote in a report to City Council. June was unusually hot and dry, and the final two weeks of August were cooler and receipts were down.

A full report on the center will be given at council’s Oct. 3 work session, including the impact a $1 increase in daily admission fees this year had on receipts. Council approved increases in May after pool contractor SwimSafe said it needed to increase its contract cost to the city because of increased costs for chemicals and added pay required to attract enough lifeguards.

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After hearing a final season financial report, council will be asked if it wants to continue with existing fees or modify them for 2023′s season. A decision is needed to assist the city in preparing for the annual discount offered to those who purchase their season passes early, Eggleston said.

The Tippecanoe Family Aquatic Center is getting a new play structure installed this fall.

In Troy, an end-of-season report is being finalized for the Troy Aquatic Park, said Ken Siler, city Recreation Director. The information should be presented to the city Recreation Board later this month.

Troy also increased fees for 2022 including daily admission and season passes (except senior season passes).

Troy Aquatic Park sold more season passes this year — 537 compared to 461 in 2021.

The center did not have any new features in 2022. The Troy Aquatic Park’s five-year plan includes an assessment of the facility to determine needs to extend its operational life and to look at what updates or added features could be incorporated to help it continue to a wide variety of age groups, Siler said.

Splash Zone in Springfield did approximately the same amount of business as it did in 2019, according to Leann Castillo, executive director of National Trail Parks and Recreation District.

The Clark County attraction garnered between 35,000 to 36,000 in attendance this season, up from 30,107 in 2021 and about even with 35,531 in 2019.

“We’re still working on our final numbers, but we had a great summer,” Castillo said. “We were fully staffed and everything was pretty much back to normal for us.”

The park managed to record those numbers by the time it closed Aug. 14, weeks before other area attractions hang it up for the summer, she said.

“Because all of our lifeguards are high school and college students going back to school ... we lose all of our workforce,” Castillo said “We have a minimum, just a few staff members, so we were able to open for our fitness hours in the morning and one Sunday when we had enough people because it takes us a minimum of 17 people working to even open.”