Molalla pool still afloat
The Molalla community has been through a pool closure before. So, when the Molalla Aquatic Center closed in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Director Melissa Georgesen had hoped it would reopen quickly.
"In March, I think a lot of us just thought it would be a couple weeks and then things might get back to normal," Georgesen said.
Now, it's clear, "quickly" is not happening. But the pool will reopen as soon as possible.
"I want everybody to know that we are thinking of them, we care about them, we miss them," she said. "We are doing everything we can to do this reopening right. So, the continued support and patience are huge, and we thank everybody for continuing to support us and be patient while we navigate through this."
Georgesen realizes the closure is difficult, especially for those accustomed to jumping in the water regularly.
"You can't replicate a water fitness class in your bathtub, no matter how hard you try," she said. "So, we recognize that it has taken more of a toll on our members than it has on us, and we're just trying to stay strong for everybody. And when we're given the go-ahead to reopen, we want it to be reopened and have everything up and running in shipshape."
It remains unclear when the pool could open its doors. Georgesen said public pools may well reopen in Phase III of the state's plan or potentially Phase II if air quality meets a certain standard.
Some work has been done on the pool's heating, ventilation and cooling system, so Georgesen is hoping to be considered for Phase II.
When it does reopen, programming and the schedule may look different for a while as staff determines best practices under unprecedented circumstances. Pools are still waiting for additional guidance from public health agencies, but it is safe to say it will not immediately be business as usual.
While swimming in chlorinated water likely does not present risk of exposure to the virus, according to Georgesen, other aspects of visiting the pool may. She wants to ensure the pool is safe before patrons return. Depending on the guidance, pools may have to prepare for 6-foot distancing, allowing fewer patrons into the facility at once, disinfecting between sessions and more.
When it comes to the pool, patience can't be easy for Molalla citizens.
After a three-year closure, in March 2018 the aquatic center reopened under the newly formed Molalla Aquatic District. Almost exactly two years later, COVID-19 forced another closure. But the closures are not alike.
"It does feel a little bit like Groundhog Day, where you wake up and you're like, oh, the pool's closed again," Georgesen said. "The difference being, this time we are a special district and we have a little bit more freedom to do things."
Georgesen said she and the board remain committed to keeping the district running.
Still, this closure has not been easy, as Georgesen is the last staff member standing. The closed doors and halted programs left little work for staff members. There were no more than two to three hours per week available for each of the many part-time staffers.
"So, the most equitable way of dealing with the part-time staff members was to lay them off due to lack of work so that they could file for unemployment benefits," Georgesen said.
If there is enough work upon reopening, all those staff members will be rehired to do that work.
In the meantime, Georgesen has been completing projects around the pool, like installing a new ADA lift and replacing chipped tile, which normally would happen during a scheduled closure in September. With the work, Georgesen hopes to avoid closing again in September for maintenance.
Those interested in supporting the pool may consider joining Friends of the Molalla Pool volunteer group or donating to the swimming lesson scholarship program. Georgesen said people also can share the Molalla Aquatic Center's Facebook posts, spread correct information and watch the website, molallaaquaticcenter.com.
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