By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
The days of a dollar swim in Joplin may be over.
Construction is in progress on the $5.8 million pool at Schifferdecker Park to replace a leaking pool. The new one is to open Memorial Day.
Joplin’s parks director proposes setting admission fees to the new pool and water park at $4 for children ages 3 to 15, and $5 for adults. Prices at the old pool were 75 cents for children and $1 for adults. None of Joplin’s pools will be priced that low if the City Council approves new rates at its meeting Monday night.
“It’s a new pool with a lot more amenities than the other pools,” said Parks Director Chris Cotten. “It’s a lot more expensive to run” than the old one. “Because of the size, we will have to have twice the staff and the fees will help recover our operating costs.”
Prices at Cunningham Family Aquatic Center, which received new slides during its repair from the 2011 tornado, will go up from $2.50 to $3 for kids ages 3 to 15, and from $3.50 to $4 for anyone older.
Children younger than 2 would be admitted without charge to all the pools.
Cotten said the increase at Cunningham reflects the added play features in the pool. “There is more to do than there has been. Our costs to run the pool are substantial, and we are making more of an attempt to recover our operating expenses,” he said.
Admission at Ewert Family Aquatic Center will cost the same as last year because no changes have been made to it this year, Cotten said. Those rates are $2.50 for kids 3 to 15, and $3.50 for anyone older.
The parks director proposes a program to sell reduced-price season passes to families who are eligible.
Season pass prices are $60 for senior citizens and children 17 and younger, $70 for adults and $125 per year for families. People who receive Women Infants and Children aid, food stamps, Medicaid or Mo HealthNet insurance may apply at the Joplin Athletic Complex for a reduced price season pass.
Cotten said he believes the half-price cost is affordable for those it is intended to help. He said the intent is that children are not singled out in front of their peers if they get in for a reduced price, because all the season passes will look the same.
Jennifer Martucci, president of the Joplin Swim Team, said the rates should be viewed in context of what similar water parks — such as that in Pittsburg, Kan., — charge.
Martucci said the parks director has been working with the swim team on the cost the team will pay to use the new pool.
“The city has additional costs to open it for swim team use, but the parks director has been very good to work with us and try to keep the cost affordable,” she said. Even though the team may pay an increase, “we have been real happy with the parks director working with us.”
Cotten said prices were kept in line with other cities — such as Branson, West Plains, Lamar and Pittsburg — that have similar operations.
Pittsburg charges $4.25 for those 16 and older, and $3.25 for children 15 and younger, and the rates will not be increased this year, a parks department spokesman there said.
Lamar has an aquatic park with a leisure pool, slides, a lap pool and various kinds of spray features. Admission there is higher than Joplin’s proposed new rates: $5 for anyone 4 or older and free for kids 3 and younger.
Joplin’s mayor pro tem, Bill Scearce, has encouraged city staff in the past to keep pool rates, particularly at Schifferdecker, as low as possible and offer free swims. Cotten said there will still be free swims at the pools, though the hours will be adjusted from those of the past.
“I think they’re a little high, of course, but everything’s high these days,” Scearce said of the proposed admission prices. He said he would like to see kids from low-income families receive reduced admission fees, and he advocates free swims for all.
But in view of the cost of building the new Schifferdecker pool and the amenities of the pools, “I’m not going to advocate for reducing the numbers (prices). I think we should pay a fair price for fair value, but I believe we should have the free swims.”
Scearce said the City Council can watch admission trends to see if adjustments in the prices are needed as the season goes along.
“We still will take a financial loss on the cost of the pools,” Cotten said. “But we are still trying to use taxpayer dollars wisely.”
The amenities at the new Schifferdecker pool will include two diving boards, four water flumes, a climbing wall, a log roll, water jets and a lazy river. The new pool also will be suitable for competition swimming and will remain the home of the Joplin Swim Team.