I am writing to provide a perspective on recent discussions relating to the Garden City Pool.
Our pool is a wonderful community amenity that has been used and enjoyed by residents over the nearly 60 years it has been in existence. For municipal accounting purposes, the pool is structured as what is known as an “enterprise fund.” This allows us to preserve a measure of exclusivity, similar to private organizations. But that status requires that the facility must be self-sustaining—its revenues must fully cover costs, including the costs of capital improvements. Unfortunately, it has been struggling to do so in recent years.
Memberships, particularly family memberships, have been declining for some time now. Over the last 15 years, family memberships, the largest membership category, have declined by nearly 17 percent. There is likely no single reason for the decline. Discussions at the recreation commission have identified a number of likely contributing factors including changing demographics, as well as competition from beach and country clubs and sports camps. It’s clear that if we can’t meaningfully reverse the membership declines, our ability to sustain the pool enterprise will be difficult.
The board of trustees and the recreation commission, working with recreation staff, have been focused on making changes to improve the attractiveness of the pool and increase our membership. Earlier this year we introduced the ability to register and pay online, an improvement that was designed to improve all aspects of the membership experience. We have recently made additional investments in technology to improve our Wi-Fi availability. During the season, we added additional seating and expect to add more lounge chairs and additional tables for next season. We have been working with our staff to reinforce the importance of being receptive and responsive to member feedback, something that will be a focus of training going forward. We held a member appreciation event over the Labor Day weekend at which beer and wine were available for the first time on a trial basis. Based on member feedback, we will consider expanding the sale of alcoholic beverages next season. We also are planning to renovate the bathroom and shower facilities before next season, a significant capital investment that is long overdue. And we are looking to identify someone with recreational facility consulting experience, on a short-term project basis, to help evaluate what competitive facilities offer and how we can enhance pool membership. All of these actions reflect our commitment to improve the member experience and expand membership.
Of course, not everything that we have done with that goal in mind has been well-received. The incentive that we offered early in the season was done with the best of intentions; meeting the ambitious revenue goals that are important to sustaining enterprise status. While family memberships are actually up, we can’t know with certainty whether the incentives were a meaningful cause. Obviously, they proved to be a source of dissatisfaction to some. We welcome the feedback and we will learn from the experience. More recently, we have also received some negative feedback from the decision made at the staff level to accommodate a request (for a fee which benefits the pool enterprise) to use three lanes in the pool complex for 75 minutes on four evenings. The request came from a group that included a number of Garden City residents that was displaced during work at the Eisenhower Park Aquatic Center. (Full disclosure, I did see the email request on this when it came in and village staff’s response that said that it could be accommodated; I did not readily recall the situation or details when a member voiced concerns at the Aug. 20, board meeting and, unfortunately, no one from recreation was at that meeting to provide an explanation.) Staff advises that they fully expected that it could be accommodated without inconveniencing members. Obviously, that did not prove to be the case, at least initially. After receiving complaints, staff did make adjustments in subsequent nights and moved the outside group in an effort to reduce any further inconvenience to members. We regret any inconvenience and will be very cautious in evaluating similar requests in the future.
Richard V. Silver
Village of Garden City Board Trustee