Lightning strike deal to run public facility
By Kyle LoJacono
The Pasco County Commission has reached an agreement with the Land O’ Lakes Lightning swimming club to keep the public pool at the Land O’ Lakes Recreation Complex open.
Commissioners and the county’s Parks and Recreation Department director Rick Buckman had all but decided to close the pool, along with another facility in Hudson, to help meet the county budget for the next fiscal year.
However, the Lightning reached a deal to take over much of the operating costs of the pool, pledging about $100,000 per year.
“That’s about what it takes to run a pool,” said club president Brett Ewald. “That’s a workable amount. We haven’t raised fees for our team and I know from doing this for more than a year we can handle that. I would stress that you need a team of this size to take on something like this. A 150-kid team does generate enough revenue to operate a pool. You need a big group.”
Ewald said the 16-year-old club has swimmers from Land O’ Lakes, Lutz, Odessa and as far east as Wesley Chapel and Zephyrhills. Ewald didn’t want to see budget concerns drain away an opportunity for young swimmers, as well as those just looking to cool off.
“It started out as a way to keep it opened for our swim team and for the two high school teams that use it,” Ewald said. “It’s pretty important for all the neighborhoods around there to have the pool running. I’d hate to have seen it just disappear.”
The deal allows both Sunlake and Land O’ Lakes high schools to continue using the facility for practices and home swimming meets. Buckman said public use will also remain, but with an increase in admission costs from $2 to $3 for children and from $3 to $4 for adults per day. He added operating hours will likely be cut slightly.
“We’ll be doing the lessons now instead of the county, but other than that everything else stays intact,” Ewald said. “We will be handling the maintenance, water quality and repairs to the pool less than $2,500.”
The county will handle any repairs that cost more than $2,500.
The commission narrowly agreed to keep the Hudson pool open by a 3-2 vote, but there is no similar organization that has stepped forward to run the west Pasco site.
The parks department has already had to close two county pools in the last year, one in New Port Richey and the other, the Hercules Aquatic Center, in Zephyrhills.
The Zephyrhills Police Athletic League (ZPAL) agreed to run the east Pasco facility, but the county reversed that deal after the organization racked up thousands of dollars in debt.
Ewald said he has seen what the operating costs are and, along with funding from the county, will be able to keep the Land O’ Lakes pool open without the issues that arose in Zephyrhills.
Buckman said he is confident about the deal with the Lightning.
“We’ve learned a lot since what happened in Zephyrhills,” Buckman said. “We saw what happened there, and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure this is successful. Plus the Lightning are in a much better situation than ZPAL was a year ago.”
For more information on the Lightning, visit www.lollightning.org.
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