Friends in the news

Grand Rapids pools have busiest summer thanks to heat

city pool.jpgHolly
Lothschutz, lef, 10, of Coopersville, and Anaka Boomgaard, 11, of Grand
Rapids, cool off under a fountain at Richmond Park Pool as temperatures
crept to 87 degrees earlier this month.

GRAND RAPIDS -- Thanks to this summer's hot weather, the city's outdoor pools were busier than ever.

Three pools attracted nearly 48,000 visitors, or 380 swimmers per
day, according to figures released by the city's Parks and Recreation
Department Director Jay Steffen.

But city officials and the citizens group behind a last-minute
fundraising drive that opened the pools say this summer's success is no guarantee the pools will reopen next summer.

"This is still a money-losing operation," said Steve Faber, director
of Friends of Grand Rapids Parks. He is part of a task force trying to
find better ways to fund and operate the city's six outdoor pools in
the future.

Faber said his group raised nearly $194,000. That was coupled with a
$100,000 gift from businessman Bob Sullivan and $125,000 from the
city's general fund.

Second Ward Co missioner Rosalynn Bliss, also a member of the task
force, reiterated that this year's last-minute fundraising drive will
not be repeated.

"When we asked people to donate, we said we would come up with some
solution and will not be asking them to help open pools next year," she
said.

Bliss said the task force is asking local YMCA officials for advice
on how to operate pools more efficiently. She said they also are
gathering information to see how other cities operate their pools.

"To me, pools are an essential service," Bliss said. "They're
integral to our neighborhoods, they're part of our parks system and
that is our responsibility."

Mayor George Heartwell was less enthusiastic about the city's future in funding pools.

"It's a very expensive service that the city provides," he said. "It's a wonderful service, but it's very expensive.

"The day when the city could open three pools, much less six pools, is a thing of the past. We can't do it by ourselves."

E-mail Jim Harger: jharger@grpress.com and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/JHHarger

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