With Pontiac preparing to tear down a beloved structure, the subject of an outdoor pool is once again fresh on the minds of residents. But what do such things cost to operate? Several surrounding municipalities provided financial information, as well as personal reflections, about what it meant to run a public pool.

    Though it has been 15 years since the Camp-Humiston Memorial Swimming Pool cradled children in its waters, it still manages to capture the imagination, inspire a solemn nostalgia and draw the ire of residents hurt by its closure. These inchoate feelings, simmering beneath the surface among Pontiac residents, came to a boil when the city government moved to have the pool, a structure deemed unsafe and deteriorating by professional inspectors in 2004, finally demolished last December.

  Some of that almost palpable rage manifested as a form of emotional displacement, with the target being the Humiston-Riverside splash pad that’s still under construction. A recurring refrain in the critiques was “Why do we have a splash pad when we don’t have a pool?”

It’s fair to note that the funding for the splash pad did not come from taxpayers, per se, having been a project pursued with the money and blessing of the Humiston Trust.

  City officials have also insisted that Pontiac does, in fact, have a pool — the indoor natatorial swimming hole adjacent the Rec Center. Yet the rebuttal to that has been that an indoor pool does not quite have the same, say, je ne sais quoi, as an outdoor one — there is a spirit of community, a sense of excitement, that seems absent in the former.

    The fact remains, however, that pools, whether indoor or outdoor, are expensive things. Common figures existing for the cost per square foot of building a new pool range from $50 to $100, so if a pool is 5,000 square feet, at the mean of $75 per square foot, the price of a pool — without even factoring in a filtration system, installation and other key expenses — is $375,000. For reference, the City of Fairbury’s Floyd & Marion Stafford Swimming Pool is 5,015.5 square feet.

    But Fairbury, along with nearby municipalities like Chenoa and Odell, are among the smaller area outposts that have an outdoor pool. Given that those cities’ and village’s pools are of varying ages and sizes, the cost at the time of building might not be the most useful comparison metric. Instead, each provided the Daily Leader budgetary income and expense numbers for its own pool over the last five years.

    With the exception of Odell, pools have not been profitable ventures: Chenoa has seen an ebb and flow year-to-year, with some years being better than others; however, from fiscal year 2013-14 to FY 2016-17, the city lost a total of a net $1,123.94 in its pool. The numbers for Fairbury’s pool were much more dire: the city ate a net loss each of its last four fiscal years, with a total net loss of $70,177.15.

    Odell, meanwhile, has been in the black each of those fiscal years excepting the last, when major improvements and repairs were done; the situation is different in that the Odell pool isn’t governed by city proper, but rather a separate entity known as the Odell Park District, according to Jeanne Gernentz, a trustee of that body. Since 2013, even including last year’s significant expenses, the Odell pool has had a total net positive income of $50,394.37.

    But making money isn’t the point, according to Chenoa Mayor Chris Wilder and Fairbury City Superintendent Brett Ashburn, both of whom believed it was something of a public service.

    “It’s important to have this pool simply because you need to have recreation for everyone to enjoy, especially in the summertime,” Wilder said. “You want to give kids something to do besides being indoors, and I think its one thing that the city should offer, if at all possible.”

    “It’s one way to offer the public somewhere to go to enjoy themselves and cool off on a hot day,” echoed Ashburn. “It shows we like to take care of something that is offered to the community to enjoy, and to provide a service to the community that we’re responsible for.”

    Since both city officials believed that the vast majority of pool-goers were residents within corporate limits or the city’s environs, neither could imagine their cities without an outdoor pool, regardless of expense.

    “We’re always running as a loss,” Ashburn said. “We’ll never recoup what we pay into it, which is to be expected.”

    The advantage of an outdoor pool versus an indoor one was, to both, the ability to catch some sunshine and the creation of an environment that was inherently more social than the alternative. Both Wilder and Ashburn noted, however, that a major con was that an outdoor pool was subject to the whims of Mother Nature, which has proven to be unpredictable in the Midwest during pool season.

    “If it storms, then that’s a day when you can’t be open and you unfortunately just have to lump it,” Ashburn said, with the Chenoa mayor commenting that especially scorching days were not exactly conducive to people escaping the comfort of their dwelling’s air condition.

    Given the considerable expense of operating a pool, Wilder said he “couldn’t rule it out” that the Chenoa City Council in the future might reevaluate its necessity to the community and decide to shutter it, but added that he “certainly would hope not.”

    “We’re proud to have it,” he said. “It’s just simply something we’ve always offered, regardless of cost, and I think that it should be there for as long as it can be.”