PORT TOWNSEND — Since last March, when the Mountain View Pool closed due to COVID-19 health restrictions, local officials have heard the clamor: Swimmers miss the water dearly.
“People are driving to Seattle to go swimming,” City Council member Ariel Speser said during Monday’s council meeting.
She’s also heard of people plunging into the Salish Sea, and she wants to offer something warmer and safer as the county’s COVID-19 case rate declines to the state’s moderate-risk category.
Yet as swimming pools in Sequim and Port Angeles have been open for months, Port Townsend city officials have been hamstrung. Parks and Recreation Director Alex Wisniewski departed for a new job in Kitsap County late last year, then aquatics program coordinator Emily Harrenstein left, too.
City Manager John Mauro asked the City Council to consider what he called a “Band-Aid” solution: contracting with another organization to manage the municipal pool — and the council voted unanimously to do so.
Already, city Public Works Director Steve King has talked with the Sequim branch of the Olympic Peninsula YMCA, where the pool reopened back in August.
“We want to make sure we have good oversight,” King said in an interview. “There’s a lot of responsibility and safety” that comes with reopening the 120,000-gallon indoor pool.
“When we were approached, it seemed like the natural thing for us to do to be good neighbors,” said Olympic Peninsula YMCA CEO Wendy Bart.
“We have amazing staff at our Sequim location, and they have the ability to provide additional support to the Mountain View staff. It’s a win-win.”
The council’s agreement authorizes the city to have the YMCA — or another organization if it doesn’t work out with the Y — manage pool operations until Dec. 31, or until vacant parks and recreation and aquatics program jobs are filled, whichever is sooner. The city will pay the manager up to $35,000.
With “the enormous desire of the community,” said Mayor Michelle Sandoval, “we want to have equitable ability of use,” meaning young people as well as seniors should have access to swimming.
This is especially crucial amid the pandemic, she added.
King, for his part, could not give a target date for reopening the pool, but he said the goal is to offer lap swimming and aquatic exercise classes once the facility staff are brought back and lifeguard certifications updated.
Hiring a new parks and recreation director is a high priority, King said, though the selection of a new police chief has been the focus in recent weeks.
Mauro has said he’ll announce his choice for that post this month.
As for the swimming pool, Mauro emphasized his effort to rescue it as rapidly as possible.
“Hand over heart,” he said, “we’ve tried to pull out all the stops.”
Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]