CLOSED FOR REPAIRS: Donner Aquatic Center hopes closing early will bring better season next year

The Donner Aquatic Center ended the month of June with an 18% financial improvement compared to the same month last year.

Expenses last month were $126,001, compared to $153,286 during the same period a year ago, Parks Associate Director of Business Services Pam Harrell said

In terms of attendance, the facility had 21,805 admissions for public swimming this summer – a 7% drop from last year, when the center was open for an entire season. The pool closed in mid-July this year for repairs.

Since the aquatic center was never intended to make a profit, Associate Director of Recreation Nikki Murphy says the goal has always been to minimize losses by improving the balance of incoming revenue with expenses.

“In attendance, the biggest game-changers over the last couple of years have been swim lessons,” Murphy said. “We’ve seen our largest number of groups or individuals taking lessons since 2014.”

Although some individual lessons were trimmed, Murphy said no cuts were made on group swimming lessons because trained swimmers are capable of, if required, saving lives.

It also helped that Donner sold more than 200 season passes this year while none were sold last year, she said.

“That rebounded really well this year,” said Murphy, who added emails were sent out to season ticket holders offering to reimburse them for the season being shortened.

The swimming facility at 739 22nd St. closed for the season July 17 after parks officials spent six months seeking proposals from contractors to fix a significant leak discovered last year. The leak has caused the city to owe more money in water and sewer services, Murphy said.

In May, a $996,000 contract was awarded to the RL Turner Corp. of Zionsville to do the repairs. However, Murphy said the deal wasn’t finalized by all parties for a couple of months.

“We came under contract the Friday before making the announcement that we would end the season early,” she said. “We didn’t know the timeline until that date.”

Preparations are now underway that will allow crews to remove the pool’s adjustable floor and install a new liner. The actual construction is set to begin on Aug. 1 – just three days before the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. kicks off a new school year on Aug. 4.

The final weeks of the pool’s traditional season usually bring a sharp drop in attendance while many families take last-minute vacations just before the fall school semester begins, she said.

“With us battling the factors of keep the pool stabilized because of the leak, it was just the most fiscally sound decision to abide by the contractor rules and just shut her down,” Murphy explained.

While the swimming facility was open the entire season in 2021, health concerns raised by COVID-19 kept the maximum capacity to 200 people, including staff, at any given time, Murphy said.

“It stayed like that for over half the season,” the associate director said. “In addition, last year was exceptionally rough in terms of weather. We had a lot of days when hardly anyone showed up due to cloudy conditions and chilly temperatures.”

No comparison could be made with any month during the summer of 2020 because health concerns kept the pool closed the entire year.

The frustration about a swimming season ending early as a scorching heat wave settles in prompted some sharp criticism on social media. Many people don’t understand the impact that supply chain economics, labor shortages and inflation are still having on contractors, Murphy said.

“We were actually very surprised that we were able to get a contractor to start as early as they did,” she added. “If we didn’t take the timeline they provided, we had no idea when the next available window would open up.”

Closing early this year will allow the pool to open in 2023 with the maintenance program completed, parks officials said.

Murphy acknowledged the Donner Aquatic Center has been temporarily closed for repairs at times during a swim season long before COVID-19 arrived in Bartholomew County. She asks patrons to remember the facility’s age.

“This is a 75-year-old pool,” Murphy said. “We’re very lucky that the aquatic center is in as good shape as it is. If we want it in operation, this is the price we have to pay for the center’s next stage of life.”