When I was growing up, my friends and I would ride our bikes from my house on Hard Rd down Linworth Rd to Wilson Bridge. From there we would carry our bikes over the guard-rail on Wilson Bridge, ride down a dirt path where we would intersect with the Olentangy Trail. We would ride south on the trail to the Worthington Pool. When we got to the pool we’d stash our bikes and climb the fence on the west side of the pool property at the bottom of the hill. I don’t remember ever paying to get in. Thirty-five years later I realize the pools could have used that admissions money (…and it was wrong to sneak into the pool. We should have paid because it is the right thing to do. I’ve been paying a family membership for 5 people for the past decade attempting to pay a penance.)
The Worthington Pools facility opened in 1954. It is run by a non-profit group called Swiminc and is not a traditional “city” pool that receives tax revenue from the City of Worthington. The pool sits on school district land which we lease to Swiminc at essentially no cost. The parking lot for the pool is the shared parking lot for Thomas Worthington High School students and athletic events. In 1976, with donations from members and individuals purchasing community bonds, the natatorium was built and turned over to Swiminc to run. The district currently pays $125,000 annually to Swiminc so that our water polo, swim and dive teams can use the facility. Under the terms of our new agreement, we also may pay an additional $75,000 each year for operating costs of the facility. Of the hours that were used in the natatorium last year, the school district use accounted for only 20% of the usage. (We do have the prime hours before and after school.) The rest of the usage was Worthington Swim Club, WAVE swim team, adult lap swimming, etc….
Like many things throughout Worthington, the pool is nearing the end of its useful life. The natatorium pool had a life expectancy of 30 years. We’re going on 43 years. The outdoor pools are potentially in worse condition. An inspection shows that the North Pool is losing roughly 3,000 gallons of water per day and may be beyond repair. The Middle Pool and and South Pool are in better condition but don’t meet current standards. The locker room facilities and concessions were built with 1950’s standards.
The question on the table is where do we go from here? If Worthington is going to have a community pool, where will the funds come from to support it? What role should the City of Worthington play and what role should the school district play? Monday evening we held a joint meeting of the Worthington Board of Education and the City Council from the City of Worthington. The future of the pools was only one issue we discussed but it was the major issue on the table.
Worthington City Manager Matt Greeson and I have been meeting with members of Swiminc and we have created a menu of options that we believe should be considered:
- Option 1 is a limited investment option of one million dollars from the State of Ohio capital budget plus whatever else Swiminc can contribute. This would primarily improve the mechanicals at the pool and would not require resources from the city or schools.
- Option 2 is a four to five million dollar investment in the outdoor facilities primarily funded by grants and loans from the City of Worthington, private funds raised by Swiminc and the one million dollar investment from the State of Ohio. This option significantly improves the outdoor pools for the next 30 years but would not provide some of the amenities that some other communities provide. It leaves the school district to determine how to best work with the natatorium.
- Option 3 is the creation of a joint recreation district that would have taxing authority throughout the Worthington School District boundaries. If this were done, the joint recreation district would create a plan for indoor and outdoor pools and then present it to the community for tax approval via a bond issue.
For Worthington Schools these are difficult decisions. We have a long history of successful swimming, diving and water polo teams. These programs have benefited multiple generations of our students. The natatorium has become a community asset and is used by students and families from all corners of our school district. However, a natatorium likely costs somewhere between 12 – 20 million dollars, depending on what is built. That’s a similar cost to building a new elementary school. As we look at Phase 2 and Phase 3 of our Master Facilities Plan, our goals of adding the necessary capacity for our student growth and updating our aging facilities continue to be our focus. We’ll need to come back to our community for future planned bond issues in 2022 and likely 2026 – just to fund those identified needs. Where does a natatorium fit in? What would it replace in those plans?
The question has to be asked, what if we choose not to fund a natatorium? In Central Ohio, Upper Arlington and New Albany Schools have their own natatorium. Many districts run swim programs at local community centers or YMCA’s. In Worthington, the community center was built intentionally not to compete with Swiminc and thus that facility is not an option for our swim, dive and water polo teams. We could rent space at a local facility for swimming. It would require students to leave our community to swim. It also would likely require practice times late into the evening. Swimming would run much like ice hockey does. Finding adequate times and facilities to support water polo may be extremely difficult.
The idea of not having a natatorium in the future is bleak but there are lots of other needs. We have multiple schools built in the 50’s and 60’s that are over capacity and don’t meet today’s standards. We have a field house at TWHS that needs replaced. We have stadium bleachers at WKHS that don’t meet today’s ADA standards. We have a maintenance facility behind Evening Street that is on it’s last leg, etc… This is not a new story. The needs of a large aging public school district are endless and every generation has to make tough choices about where to put the available resources.
I’m not certain how Worthington Schools will proceed. This communication is designed to put it on your radar and to begin to solicit feedback. We’ve committed to holding a public meeting with the City of Worthington to get community feedback. Look for a date and time for that meeting to come out in the next few weeks. In addition, we’ll be attempting to survey our larger school district community on their priorities and will present that data publicly after we have it and before we proceed in any one direction.
I enjoyed Worthington Pools as a kid. My children have benefited from Worthington Pools in this community. How to fund the pools going forward is a real question and where they fall on our priority list is as well.
-Trent Bowers, Superintendent