Lying in the sun by the pool on a hot summer day, swim lessons for children and laps around the pool will not happen at War Memorial Pool in Ridgeview Park this summer.
And the COVID-19 pandemic’s effects on the city of Waynesboro’s budget for 2020-2021 are to blame.
“It was basically forced upon us for budget cutbacks,” said Waynesboro Parks and Recreation Director Dwayne Jones.
According to Jones, fees at the gate “only cover a small portion of what it costs to pay for the pool” to be open each summer.
The total budgeted cost to open War Memorial Pool from Memorial Day weekend to the second weekend in September is $120,000. The $4 per over age 16 and per adult and $2 per child fees, plus funds acquired from concessions, total $30,000.
Jones said the decision was collectively made by city staff during talks about the impact of the pandemic on the city’s budget. The city expects lower sales tax revenue from meals and lodging for 2020-2021 because of the pandemic’s restrictions.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s current pandemic order, Jones said, does not allow for the pool to open, and when the pool could open is difficult to predict.
The city did not want to keep the 10 or so lifeguards who were ready to work at the pool this summer in limbo when they might find other summer work.
“A lot of the money saved will help us in the next fiscal year that starts July 1,” Jones said.
The War Memorial Pool is “a fairly substantial tax-supported enterprise,” he said.
With the pool being closed, it means the summer swim team will not compete.
Last year’s coach for Park Piranhas was not returning this year, and the city was in the process of hiring a new coach, but then the process was delayed by the pandemic.
“As much as we hate to see [summer city activities] go, we’d much rather folks be safe,” Jones said.
City staff considered various scenarios, Jones said, including limited pool hours or days, but anticipated that staffing would be a challenge in each scenario.
“Staff is obviously the biggest cost we have [with the pool],” Jones said, as well as the water and utilities.
Limiting the number of patrons at the pool would also have been a challenge.
Jones said Parks & Rec encourages residents to enjoy private pools this summer. He added that he anticipates the pools at Gypsy Hill Park and Montgomery Hill Park in Staunton, as well as Stuarts Draft Pool and Natural Chimneys Pool will also be closed by their respective parks and recreation departments for the summer.
“We’re still here to encourage folks to get out and get exercise with the proper social distancing,” Jones said of the city’s park system.
The hope is that next year’s budget will permit the city to open the War Memorial Pool.
“It’s difficult to predict what the true impact [of the COVID-19 pandemic] will be,” Jones said.
But with other summer events including Grooving on the Greenway and the Extravaganza cancelled, the city has the fall and winter to recover funds for next year’s budget.
Kate Harman, 15, a freshman at Waynesboro High, said she and her family have enjoyed summers at the War Memorial pool since she was born.
“I’ve gone every single summer,” Kate said.
She said her entire family is upset about the pool being closed this summer. They have considered the South River or Shenandoah River as alternates, but expect the South River will be crowded because Waynesboro’s pool is closed.
If beaches are open, the family could go, but beaches are a far drive from Waynesboro.
“There aren’t a whole lot of options besides going to a friend’s house to their pool,” Kate said.
But they can’t go to a friend’s pool every day.
Kate said she understands the city’s revenue for 2020 is a problem, and thinks opening the pool would be safe because pool visitors could practice social distancing and the number of visitors at the pool could be limited.
Kate said social distancing “would be an easy solution.”
“I think if we raised the prices [to enter], people are still going to be desperate [to come to the pool], people will come,” Kate said.
Ben Young, 16, is a junior at Waynesboro High School. Last summer was his first summer as a lifeguard at the pool.
He had planned to lifeguard at the pool again this summer.
“It’s alright,” said Ben. “It will change my summer a bit. I’ll have to find some other things to work on.”
Ben said that although he does not need a summer job, he likes to stay busy and work.
He could get a job at another pool, or he said he could get a job in the food industry.
“It’s still a bit of a bummer, because I like working there,” Ben said.
Lifeguarding gives him the opportunity to be outside, and because War Memorial is the city of Waynesboro’s pool, he gets to meet a lot of people.
“It’s not a super difficult job. Every now and then it is serious, because you have to get in there and save someone,” Ben said.
Ben has not saved a swimmer yet, but has seen other lifeguards make saves.
“I was really disappointed,” said Kristen Wagner, 18, a senior at Waynesboro High. “I always look forward to working there.”
This summer would have been Wagner’s fifth summer as a lifeguard at the pool, and her final summer before college.
Wagner said working at the pool was an opportunity to see her friends while also making money.
After four summers as a lifeguard, Wagner has a lot of great memories of the War Memorial Pool.
“They’ve been really, really great,” she said.
Wagner said she has no backup plan for a job this summer.
Although she had planned for this summer to be her last as a lifeguard, Wagner said she might reconsider and return next summer “for one last hoorah.”
“It’s good memories all around,” Wagner said.