YARMOUTH - The battle presently being faced by the Cumberland YMCA is not unlike the struggles of other small town facilities.
"Pools lose money," Yarmouth YMCA CEO Barrie MacGregor said. "You could get data from almost any group that runs a pool and you'd find the same thing, they are a money-losing proposition."
MacGregor is well aware of the problems being faced by the Cumberland YMCA, that announced on Monday it will be closing its pool on Monday, March 16, because it can't afford to maintain it and protect core services.
While it would be easy for the Yarmouth YMCA to follow suit, considering it finished 2008 with a deficit of about $75,000, MacGregor said the pool is very busy.
"I would say our pool is probably gallon for gallon busier than any other pool around," MacGregor said. " We have a school program, instructional swims, lane swims and a fair bit of aquafit."
Cumberland YMCA managing director Trina Clarke said a school program would go a long way towards helping her operation, but pointed out schools cut the program several years ago to save money.
"It wasn't the rental of the pool that was the problem, it was the busing," she said. "It's something we'd really like to have back and would help us a lot."
Clarke reaffirmed the decision to close was a tough one, but it's backed up by the best information available.
Jim Campbell from Health Promotion and Protection told the board that "this situation is not unique to the management of this pool. Pools in general are very expensive to operate and cost recovery through programming is next to impossible. Few, if any, operate without some form of subsidy."
The pool at Yarmouth's YMCA has four lanes and was built in 1967. The rest of the YMCA building was built around the pool in 1983. The Cumberland YMCA's design is 25 yards, but only three lanes because the pool was originally designed for use by the former deaf school (that only used the pool for a couple of years until it built its own and then later closed when operations were consolidated with the school for the visually impaired in Halifax).
MacGregor, who has been CEO at the Yarmouth YMCA since 1994, said the pool's instructional programs normally break even, but maintenance costs don't come close to being on budget.
"A racquetball court takes almost no maintenance, you paint it once a year and it's good. A pool is just constant. It's a whole different proposition, there are a number of motors running constantly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And then you have chemicals and heating on top of that," he said. "Operating a full-service YMCA within a small town is quite a challenge. It's not an uncommon situation for YMCAs in small communities. They tend to struggle."
MacGregor said with the exception of hotel pools and those owned by either municipalities or the province, there are no other public pools in southwestern Nova Scotia - a factor that has helped YMCA membership and pool use at his facility.
The YMCA in Yarmouth, like Cumberland, receives a fair bit of municipal funding including $30,000 from the town, $9,300 from the Municipality of Yarmouth and $5,000 from Argyle.
The Cumberland YMCA gets funding from the Town of Amherst and the Muncipality of Cumberland. Amherst also gives the facility money for its summer swim program.