On one of the hottest days of summer Monday, a crowd gathered at the West Seneca wading pool at Veterans Park.
They weren’t there to cool off, but to get signatures on a petition asking the city council not to demolish the municipal swimming pool and to reopen it next year.
Their efforts paid off. Later on Monday, the council decided to redouble its efforts to find lifeguards and to reopen the pool next year.
Residents jammed the community center meeting room on Monday night after rumors spread that council was to vote to hire a company to demolish and fill the 50-meter swimming pool for $105,000.
But council members did not vote, after listening for three hours to comments from residents in person and emails to council that were read aloud. The comments were overwhelmingly in favor of saving the pool.
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Built in 1976, the pool at West Seneca is nearly 50 years old and is far from alone in struggling with the future of an outdoor pool.
North Tonawanda Mayor Austin J. Tylec favors designating the city’s 75-year-old Memorial Pool as a historic landmark, but city council has yet to approve the measure. The pool is one of the few remaining above ground pools in the country designed by engineer Wesley Bintz.
A study several years ago estimated that it would cost about $2 million to renovate the pool and about $6 million to build a new pool, Tylec said. He said the city is moving towards retaining the old pool and repurposing it, while designing a new pool elsewhere in Payne Park.
The Brighton Pool in the town of Tonawanda has been closed for several summers due to leaks. Instead of making expensive repairs, the city plans to build an accessible spray park that will include slides and other water features in Brighton Park.
West Seneca recreation supervisor Lauren Masset said 360 patrons visited the pool 976 times last year.
“It’s a nice pool. It’s in great shape,” resident Adam Johnson said of the West Seneca pool.
Johnson and his wife, Andrea, started West Seneca Swims, a pool-keeping group. The group garnered 400 followers on its Facebook page, collected signatures on petitions asking the council to postpone the demolition and held a “deathbed vigil” ahead of Monday’s city council meeting.
“I’m a banged up hockey player. I’m just looking for low impact exercise,” Johnson said. “I started swimming in the spring and then found out the city was looking to close the pool.”
The council voted 4-1 on May 23 to close the pool, citing the inability to hire enough lifeguards for the summer, a dwindling number of people using it and the repairs that will be needed.
Courtney Frances Fallon was a lifeguard at the pool several years ago and recently returned from New York to Erie County. She said the decision to close the pool showed “complete disregard” for the swimming lessons in which hundreds of children have taken part.
The pool was closed in 2020 due to the pandemic and was open four days a week last year due to difficulty hiring and keeping lifeguards. Masset told the board that on May 23, people were staffing the pool in 2021 and that by the end of May, she had 18 nominations. Board member Robert J. Breidenstein said in May that the pool would eventually need resurfacing and a new gutter system, estimated to cost around $500,000.
Supervisor Gary Dickson said pool management isn’t what it was 10 years ago.
“Everything about running a pool has changed, mainly the lifeguards. Even when we had a lot of lifeguards, the pool was open maybe eight weeks a year,” Dickson said.
He was in favor of filling the pool and replacing it with something that could be used by many people for most or all of the year without staff, such as sports fields. He noted that the city had replaced the wading pool with the wading pool next to the pool.
“Now we have the wading pool and because there are no staff it can be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.,” Dickson said.
Council members asked several interested residents to work with the city to find options on how to increase the number of lifeguard candidates for next year.