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Eisenschmidt Pool expected to maintain rates despite anticipated water cost hikes

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Dozens of children take part in swimming lessons at Eisenschmidt Pool. The pool offers lessons for youth and adults throughout the summer. Eisenschmidt Pool is open year-round, but as kids settle into summer vacation and temperatures rise, the pool is often teeming with children and adults.

"The lifeguards have fun with the kids and they kind of get to know which kids are coming every day," said Anne Scholz, who has been the pool's manager for the past 12 years. "It turns into a big summer camp and we don't mind it."

During summer months the pool offers a variety of classes for children and adults to learn how to swim, including a week when classes are offered free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. American Red Cross-approved swimming courses are also available throughout the summer, as are private swimming lessons.

Emily Barnes, a lead lifeguard who has worked full-time at Eisenschmidt for 13 years, said the pool is also a great asset for older individuals. While swimming lessons are one of the most well-known public activities, deep- and shallow-water aerobics classes are also regularly offered. Barnes explained that the low-impact workout classes are great for elderly patrons.

"It's a chance to socialize [and] get that physical activity that they're in need of," she said.

The pool also offers daily open swim time, a wading pool, a twisted water slide and two rock climbing walls in the deep end.

"It's a great place for these kids to come. I always want to say that we have an open door," Barnes added. "If we see a child that's out and about and they don't have anything to do, we'll say, come on down to the pool, come hang out with your friends. It's a break for parents most definitely to run those errands and have some place safe to leave their kids for a very affordable price, in my opinion."

Changing costs

While much has changed at Eisenschmidt Pool in St. Helens over its nearly four decades, pool officials' overarching philosophy that everyone should know how to swim has remained constant.

Scholz has also continually held the notion that keeping rates affordable is key to maintaining community access, even in light of newly proposed city water rates.

Scholz and her staff are taking what could be a fiscal challenge for the pool, which is principally supported through special district tax funding, as a cue to implement creative money-saving solutions that will maintain the pool's wide range of services.

Recently, the city of St. Helens proposed charging Eisenschmidt for its water usage — something that hasn't been done in the pool's 79-year history, Scholz explained. Those familiar with the long-term history of the pool said it was the result of a "gentleman's agreement" for the city to not charge for water use.

Matt Brown, the city's finance director, said the proposed water rates are the result of a broader effort by the city to examine utilities and to bill properties not currently paying for water services.

While the St. Helens City Council has yet to pass an official resolution that would set the pool's water and sewer rate, an estimated water bill of $26,000 was calculated earlier this year. Scholz said the figure has been factored into the pool's $670,000 operating budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: NICOLE THILL-PACHECO - Pool manager Anne Scholz examines a new chlorine tablet-based system recently installed at Eisenschmidt Pool, replacing a liquid chlorine system. The new system is expected to save close to $12,000 annually, Scholz explained.The pool's board of directors conducted an evaporation study last month that led to a request for the city to adjust sewer charges, and are asserting that not all of the water used goes down the sewer.

City councilors and staff have yet to fully review the pool board's request and the topic will likely be discussed at the July 18 City Council work session, Brown said. He explained that he also plans to recommend billing the pool on a step basis, such that the pool is billed gradually based on actual water and sewer system use.

Despite the anticipated additional expense, Scholz said she is determined not to raise rates at the pool, if at all possible. Instead, she has been trying to come up with creative solutions to cut back in other areas of spending and to reduce water waste.

Most recently, Scholz installed a new tablet-based chlorine system which she estimates will help save $12,000 a year. Instead of using liquid chlorine — which costs more, must be delivered by truck and degrades in about 30 days — the new system floods a hopper filled with large solid chlorine tablets. The concentrated chlorinated water is then drained into the pool filtration system, and the tablets are allowed to dry, which ensures that they don't continue to degrade over time, Scholz explained. Additionally, a year's worth of tablets can be purchased once, and then used as needed.

While the initial installation of the system will be an expense, over time the upgrade will help save costs not only on chlorine, but other chemicals like calcium and CO2, are used to control the water's pH level, she added.

Scholz has also tasked staff with coming up with their own creative, water-saving solutions, like upgrading the locker room showers and other ideas.

Longstanding community resource

Eisenschmidt Pool was built in 1939 as part of the Works Project Administration following the Great Depression, the pool's website notes, and is one of only eight such WPA projects still standing.

Approaching the entryway, large chunks of basalt are intermixed with gray concrete to form the pool structure's exterior walls. Scholz said that when the hole for the pool was excavated with the use of dynamite, basalt remnants from that effort were used as decorative façade elements.

In 1938, three children drowned in the Columbia River, prompting an outcry for the pool to be built. In 1985, when the pool was shut down due to budget cuts by the St. Helens School District, which had ownership of the pool at the time, voters approved a special tax district to support the pool — the Greater St. Helens Parks and Recreation District. The board of directors recently agreed to change the name of the district at the request of the city and will soon appear on tax statements as the Greater St. Helens Aquatics and Recreation District.

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