Listen to this article

PAXTON — Open swim will no longer be offered in the daytime or on weekends but instead will only be offered from 6 to 9 p.m. every weeknight at Coady Park’s swimming pool this summer.

The measure is intended to help save the Paxton Park District on costs of operating the pool while maximizing its perceived peak hours of usage.

“Unfortunately, from a staffing and salary standpoint, we cannot afford to be open days and nights seven times a week,” Recreation Director Neal McKenry said.

McKenry said fewer than 40 people came to the pool on 37 of the 85 days the pool was open last summer, and attendance averaged only 31 on Saturdays and Sundays. The most people in attendance on any given weekend day, McKenry said, was 60.

“Those numbers are all very depressing,” McKenry said.

Meanwhile, the pool’s operation saw a net loss of $9,976 in 2018. Between 2013 and 2017, the average annual loss was $21,989.

McKenry said a change in the business model of the pool is needed, citing staff payroll as a major cost. Still, McKenry was actually against changing the pool’s operational hours this summer. McKenry instead wanted to run the pool with its regular hours of operation for one more summer to see how it went.

“I know something had to be done, I just didn’t think it needed to be done this year,” McKenry said.

As approved by the park board Tuesday night, the pool will be open May 25 through Aug. 11. The open swim hours of 6-9 p.m. Monday through Friday differ from last year, when open swim was available from 1-5:30 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 1-5 p.m. Fridays through Sundays and 8-10 p.m. on Wednesdays.

Park Board President Steve Sample supported the change, noting the low turnout the pool has seen during the daytime on weekdays as well as on weekends.

“The numbers are low during the week, but they’re typically even lower during the weekends,” Sample said. “We decided that, in an effort to try and save some money, we would close on the weekends.”

The pool will be open on weeknights primarily to accommodate working parents who otherwise might not be able to use it, Sample said.

“We’ve gotten a lot of feedback that parents can’t bring their kids to the pool during the day because both parents work, but they would come at night if (the pool) were open more,” said Sample.

While some people may not like the change, they should at least appreciate a cheaper admission fee. The pool’s daily admission fee is now only $1, at most, with some nights being free. Unlike in past summers, no season pool passes will be sold.

“Besides not being what anyone is accustomed to, everyone should be thrilled that admission is, more or less, free and we’re open nightly five times week,” McKenry said.

The entry fee might even be waived on some nights if the park district can find business sponsors for so-called “Free Family Swim Nights.” Since 2016, the pool has hosted business-sponsored “Free Family Swim Nights” on some Wednesday evenings.

“Our attendance was through the roof on those nights,” Sample said. “Whether that was due to the fact that it was free or the fact that it was at night and people were available to take their kids to the pool, I’m not sure which one, but we talked about it quite a bit, and we decided that, in an effort to try to make the pool last and be there for the community, shifting to evening-swims only was something we wanted to try this year.”

Swim lessons will still take place during the week in the late mornings.  

Meanwhile, the Paxton Aquatic Wildcats swim team, which is still searching for a coach to replace Alex Goudy, will no longer have any evening practices but will be able to have its morning practices later in the morning if it chooses.  

Pool rentals will also still be available.

The pool hours and fees were approved via a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Denver Piatt in disagreement. Piatt said he voted against the new pool hours because, similar to McKenry’s opinion, he felt it was too soon to make such a change.

“I was in favor of keeping the hours as they were and stressing to the public that we needed help,” Piatt said. “We need attendance. We need to sell passes. We need community involvement. I was also in favor of revisiting the situation at the end of the season, and then if there wasn’t a change in attendance and revenue, then change the business model.”

Sample said he understood Piatt’s and McKenry’s objections, but he noted that “some of the other board members just felt like we’ve tried ... and that this was the year that we really need to try something different and see if we can make the business model work to where the pool can be successful and still be an asset to the community.

“The traditional pool business as we’ve known it, where you’re open in the afternoons, seems to be kind of tapering off,” Sample added. “I don’t know what has led to that, but I think (public) pools everywhere have seen that.”

Piatt re-elected to board

In other park board news, Piatt was re-elected to the board in the April 2 consolidated election.  Piatt will be sworn in at the May meeting.

Commissioners Steve Sample, Brad Ecker and Kaye Harper will be in attendance at the May meeting, hoping to get re-appointed to the board, as well.

Sample and Ecker might retain their current positions of president and vice president, respectively.  

The board will need to appoint a new treasurer, though, as Amber King is no longer on the board.

Meanwhile, the April meeting officially saw the board drop from seven to five commissioner positions after a measure to reduce the number of members was approved via a vote in the March 2018 election.

“We had a real struggle getting members of the community to want to participate on the board,” Sample said.

Bobby Kinnaird has two years left on his term as commissioner.

Part of Coady Park to be transformed into habitat area

In other news, Evan Bristle, a Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School student, along with local conservation specialist Jason Bleich, had been discussing transforming roughly half of an acre of Coady Park into a natural habitat area.

Bristle is one of 20 national members on the youth council of Pheasants Forever. As such, he needs to complete several community projects.  

The habitat project Bristle has proposed to the park district, which would take two to three years to fully develop, was approved by the board, but its exact location has yet to be determined.  

“We are most likely interested it in the area between the skatepark (to the east) and the gravel path back to the dog park,” McKenry said. “We look forward to working with Evan and Jason with this project.”  

Other business

Also at Tuesday’s meeting:

➜ The board authorized McKenry to look into a few credit card options for the park district and report back next month. The park district has not owned a credit card during McKenry’s tenure as recreation director, which is nearing eight years. “Currently, when a credit card purchase needs to be made for park district-related expenses, I put it on my personal credit card and wait up to a month to get reimbursed,” McKenry said.    

➜ The park district’s budget for fiscal year 2019 will be filed and made available for public view shortly and then be approved at the May meeting, the board learned.

➜ An intergovernmental agreement between the Paxton Park District and PBL school district was discussed, but it has not yet been approved. The park board decided to wait to approve the agreement until after the school board took action. “In the past, the park district has paid an annual facility usage fee (under the agreement) to the PBL district, which in recent years has been $7,000,” McKenry said.