Citing health concerns and financial issues as the COVID-19 pandemic lingers into summer, a number of West Virginia cities and counties have already pulled the plug on swimming in public pools, while others remain indecisive.
On Wednesday, Kanawha County Parks and Recreation Commission members bucked that trend by voting to prepare county-owned pools at Coonskin and Pioneer parks for opening.
The vote took place at about the same time Gov. Jim Justice said, in response to a reporter’s question during a COVID-19 news briefing, that he planned to announce health requirements and opening dates “hopefully, in the next couple of weeks,” for public swimming pools, including those in state parks and forests.
The decision to open the Kanawha County-owned pools came on a 6-3 vote.
Some members questioned moving forward with opening plans without knowing what coronavirus-blocking health requirements the Justice administration would impose, including group size limits and social distancing standards. Commission members Janet Drumheller and Karen Haddad voiced concern about the park system’s reduced income because of COVID-19 forcing parks to close for nearly two months, and not having enough money budgeted to cover operating costs through Labor Day.
Parks and Recreation Director Jeff Hutchinson said he is confident the needed funding will be available. The motion calling for the Coonskin pool to be repaired, filled and prepared for opening contained wording stipulating that it would open only if it could be operated in a manner that meets all state COVID-19 safety requirements.
Hutchinson said it would take about three weeks to complete minor repairs to Coonskin Park pool’s aluminum liner, fill it, and ready it and other pool amenities for opening.
The Olympic-sized pool, operated by the YMCA of the Kanawha Valley, has provided a haven from summer heat for decades and is a center for swim team activity and swimming lessons.
Pioneer Park pool is adjacent to East Bank Middle School, in Eastern Kanawha County. Management of the county’s former Shawnee pool was transferred to the city of Dunbar several years ago.
Charleston officials said Wednesday that none of the city’s four pools will be open for Memorial Day weekend and that the possibility of opening them at a later date remains under consideration.
The prospect of opening pools was discussed during a Monday City Council meeting. Mayor Amy Shuler Goodwin said that, to open the pools, a determination must be made that it is financially feasible and safe from a public health standpoint. She said it costs $50,000 to $60,000 to open each of the four pools.
Because of added expenses and a loss of revenue from the COVID-19 lockdown, Charleston faces a $3 million deficit going into the next fiscal year, Goodwin said.
Among West Virginia cities that have announced they will not operate pools this summer are Beckley, Kenova and Eleanor, along with Putnam County’s Waves of Fun wave pool at Valley Park in Hurricane and Boone County’s WaterWays water park at Julian.