At one point on that Saturday afternoon, the three people who'd come for an open swim were ordered from the outdoor pool because of lightning and thunder.
"This is Washington. This is pretty typical," said Breana Murphy, 19, a University of Washington student who grew up taking lessons at McCollum and now works there part-time. "I remember coming here and it was like this a lot."
About six miles away, meanwhile, the line of people showing up to swim stretched more than 100 feet out the door at Lynnwood's renovated indoor pool complex featuring water slides, a "lazy river," water playground and family hot tub.
The contrast shows some of the emerging challenges to running seasonal outdoor public pools at places such as Snohomish County's McCollum Park, in south Everett, and Yost Park in Edmonds.
"There is a place for all of these kinds of different pools," county parks director Tom Teigen said. "At this point, we're just continuing to operate (McCollum pool) and operate it as efficiently as possible."
The region's outdoor public pools have survived for decades, thanks to hardy Northwesterners willing to brave uncooperative weather.
The competition from gleaming, multimillion-dollar aquatic temples comes just as local governments face choices about patching up aging, decades-old pools.
It's a conversation taking place all over the country, as a wave of public pools built in the 1960s and 1970s approach the end of their life expectancy.
Lynnwood opened its $24.5 million rec center last year. The ripples in the aquatic landscape are bound to increase, now that the Snohomish School District has moved ahead with plans for a $21.3 million aquatic center with a 10-lane pool, a lazy river, a water slide and wave pool, among other features. The district broke ground in late June and expects to finish construction in the fall of 2013.
The McCollum Park pool was built in 1970. It opens each year for an eight-week season, which this year runs June 23 through Sept. 3.
County staff try to recoup McCollum's operating costs by keeping a packed swim-lesson schedule. In each of the past several summers, more than 1,800 people have registered for swim lessons at McCollum, said Tony Trofimczuk, the county's recreation supervisor. Lessons have taken priority over open swims both because of the guaranteed revenue they bring, but also for public safety; to date, tens of thousands of people have learned to swim there.
"I don't see this as competition," Trofimczuk said. "I would see this as partnering in water-safety education."
The pool does try to entice people to open swims by keeping the water at 87 degrees and everyday admission at $3, a buck or two less than what some other public pools charge. Open swim attendance averages about 75 people, three times a day over the summer, adding up to about 12,600 last summer, Trofimczuk said.
That's allowed McCollum pool to recoup about 90 percent of its operating costs, which are running about $190,000.
On a really good day in late July or early August, 1,500 people might use the pool.
Cut-rate pricing on chilly days hasn't worked as a way to entice people into the pool.
"It made no difference," Trofimczuk said. "We can offer the pool for free, and if it's not warm enough, people won't come."
Admission and lesson fees won't be enough cover some of the looming upgrades needed at the pool. Required fixes over the next few years are likely to cost about $250,000, Teigen said, including a new pool liner, a pump and water lines.
"It's not unreasonable to think we're going to spend a quarter million dollars in the next two or three years, just to keep it as it is," he said.
The city of Edmonds faces similar issues at its seasonal outdoor pool at Yost Park.
Yost saw a more than 30 percent dip in attendance to 13,309 in 2011 from 19,512 in 2010.
"We attribute that to the Lynnwood pool opening and to weather," said Carrie Hite, Edmonds' parks, recreation, and cultural services director.
The pool costs about $180,000 to operate per year and has been bringing in about $140,000.
"We do subsidize it," Hite said. "When it's rainy and cold, we subsidize it even more because our revenues go down."
Like McCollum, Edmonds has tried to max out swim-lesson programs and keeps the water a comfortable 84 degrees.
Unlike McCollum, there is a chance that Edmonds could give the pool at Yost Park a big makeover -- if the city finds the money.
In 2009, a consultant presented the city with several options, from spending $5 million to renovate the existing outdoor pool, to $22 million for indoor-only lap and recreation pool.
The community opted to rebuild an expanded footprint, Hite said, which included putting a roof over the existing pool and an outdoor leisure area. That was estimated to cost $8.2 million.
"It's not collecting dust on the shelf, it's just a matter of putting the financial puzzle together," she said of the plan.
Everett's 1976 Forest Park Swim Center has undergone periodic closures over the past decade for renovations (2003) and for damage caused by a fire (2006). No big upgrades are planned for the near future, said Lori Cummings, Everett's assistant director of recreation and golf services.
The indoor pool attracted about 70,000 paid visitors last year plus 6,800 people who registered for swim classes or aquatic fitness programs, Cummings said. That covered nearly half of the center's $788,500 yearly operating expenses.
Mountlake Terrace also has looked into further upgrades to its popular 1968 Recreation Pavilion.
Lynnwood reopened its Recreation Center to surging crowds in April 2011. The remodel involved a complete overhaul of the original 1976 facility, adding water slides, a lazy river and water playground, among other features. The popularity has continued into its second summer.
Open swim periods often sell out of all 300 available spots, Lynnwood aquatics supervisor Bill Haugen said.
Every week, more than 10,000 people use the rec center, most of them to swim, Haugen said. The total also includes people going there for non-aquatic exercise, such as using the weight room or fitness classes. Still, Haugen estimates that more than 400,000 people per year are using the pool.
"We're doing the best we can to get everybody in the door," he said.
The recreation center is supported by the city's operating budget. The construction was financed by bonds, with current interest-only payments of $684,477 per year.
"Our expectation is that revenues will exceed this year's bond payments," city finance director Lorenzo Hines said.
A more complete financial picture of the pool should be available when Hines presents a city budget update later this month.
"We're real happy with the rec center and its performance so far," he said.
Lynnwood isn't the only local pool that sometimes has to turn people away.
It happens at McCollum, too, though you'll probably have to wait for a picture-perfect day to see it.
"If you come on a hot-hot-day, we turn people away because we're full," Trofimczuk said. "As soon as we hit 75 (degrees), things completely change."
Pools at a glance
McCollum Park pool, Snohomish County
Type: Outdoor, built 1970
Open: June 23 through Sept. 3, 2012
Address: 600 129th St. SE, Everett.
More info: 425-357-6036 or www.snocoparks.org.
Yost Park, City of Edmonds
Type: Outdoor, built 1974
Open: June 4 through Sept. 3, 2012
Address: 9535 Bowdoin Way, Edmonds
Admission: $3.50 for residents, $4 for nonresidents for youth (ages 17 and under), seniors (ages 60 and older) and the disabled; adults (ages 18 to 59) pay $4.50 for residents and $5 for nonresidents.
More info: daily schedule, 425-775-2645, information and registration, 425-771-1346, or yostpool.edmondswa.gov.
Lynnwood Recreation Center
Type: Indoor, rebuilt in 2011
Address: 18900 44th Ave. W., Lynnwood
Admission: $4 for youth (ages 2-12), seniors (62 and older) or the disabled; $4.50 for teens (ages 13-17); and $5 for adults (ages 18-61).
More info: 425-670-5732 or www.PlayLynnwood.com.
Forest Park Swim Center, City of Everett
Type: Indoor, built 1976
Address: 802 E. Mukilteo Blvd., Everett
Admission: $3 for youth (age 17 and under) or seniors (ages 62 and up); $3.50 for adults (ages 18-61).
More info: 425-257-8300 or www.everettwa.org.
Recreation Pavilion, Mountlake Terrace
Type: Indoor, built 1976
Address: 5303 228th St. SW, Mountlake Terrace
Admission: $3.75 for residents and $4.25 for nonresidents for youth (ages 1-15) and seniors (ages 60 and up); $4.75 for residents and $5.25 for nonresidents for adults (ages 16-59).
More info: 425-776-9173 or www.cityofmlt.com.
Snohomish School District aquatic center
Type: Indoor, construction expected to finish in fall 2013
Address: 601 Glen Ave., Snohomish.
More info: www.sno.wednet.edu
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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