Snohomish Aquatic Center is on track financially

SNOHOMISH — The $22.2 million aquatic center here is on track financially, despite losing money during its first year of operations. That’s according to Kristin Foley, a spokeswoman for the Snohomish School District, which paid for construction of the Maple Avenue swimming complex with a 2008 bond.

The 52,000-square-foot Snohomish Aquatic Center opened in January 2014. It lost $87,665 from the time the district started paying for the full cost of operations in March to the end of the fiscal year in August. A full year of financial data is expected to become available in September.

In general, pools are not profitable, Foley said. However, the district hopes to grow revenues and eventually break even on the aquatic center. It features a variety of attractions, including a competitive swimming pool, a recreational pool, a hot tub, a lazy river, a spray-play area, a waterslide and a surf simulator.

“It’s always been our goal to recover between 90 and 100 percent of our costs,” Foley said.

Lynnwood opened its $24.5 million recreation center in 2011. It has an indoor pool with waterslides, a lazy river, a hot tub and an aquatic playground. But it isn’t making money either.

In 2013, Lynnwood’s rec center lost $1.27 million. Recreation Superintendent Joel Faber said that total includes non-aquatic activities from athletics, youth programs and the senior center. Numbers for the center’s 2014 financial performance are not yet available. Faber said the center recovers less than 70 percent of its costs.

The new aquatic centers, such as those in Lynnwood and Snohomish, are now competing with aging public pools around the county. Local governments are facing tough decisions as operations costs eat up profits at most pools.

The city of Everett considered closing the Forest Park Swim Center last spring but people wanted to keep the indoor pool open. That’s despite the increasing operations costs and dwindling attendance, city spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said.

The pool, built in 1976, lost $392,453 in 2014, according to the city’s preliminary accounting. It lost $348,107 in 2013.

Similarly, preliminary figures show the indoor pool at Recreation Pavilion in Mountlake Terrace lost $277,797 in 2014. The pool lost $217,114 in 2013.

“It’s very unusual for any kind of recreation program to recover all of their costs,” said Mountlake Terrace Finance Director Sonja Springer.

Outdoor pools in Snohomish County fare better but still don’t bring in much money.

Edmonds’ Yost Park pool turned a small profit last year, its first since the pool was built in 1974. It made $4,738.

Edmonds Parks Director Carrie Hite said the seasonal pool usually loses about $25,000 a year. A new agreement with the YMCA last year saved the city about $20,000 by covering staff costs for lifeguards and swim instructors, she said.

In recent years, the outdoor pool at McCollum Park in south Everett has also seen a small surplus, said County Parks Director Tom Teigen. The 1970 pool made a profit of about $3,000 in 2014.

Teigen said shortening the swim season has helped increase revenue. Instead of losing money by opening in early-June, the county now waits until the weather warms up later in the month.

Before the county moved to the 12-week season, the pool typically recovered about 90 percent of its costs, Teigen said.

Unlike most of the other pools in the area, the Snohomish Aquatic Center has several recreational offerings, which means more ways of recovering operating costs, manager Chris Bensen said.

The open swim sessions have helped drive revenue with the pools filling up on weekends, she said. Water fitness classes and swim lessons also are bringing in money.

The Flowrider, a machine that simulates surfing, also has been a hit. Bensen changed the schedule so people didn’t have to wait if they wanted to pay for two surf sessions during one visit.

The district is counting on the aquatic center to bring in at least $1.36 million in revenue during the 2014-2015 fiscal year. Despite its growing popularity, it is expected to lose money with expenses at about $1.6 million.

Staff costs make up the lion’s share of expenses. The district has budgeted $1.14 million to pay for annual staffing. Heat, electricity, insurance, chemicals and supplies are expected to cost another $315,200.

If the aquatic center starts to turn a profit, the money will be funneled back to the school district. Losses come out of the district’s general fund.

“That’s why it’s so important to keep that gap small,” Bensen said.

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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