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All three FNSB pools remain open - with limits

Hamme Pool
FNSB Aquatics
Hamme Pool

All three swimming pools In the Fairbanks North Star Borough will be open this summer – except for routine maintenance closures. A reduction in positions starting in July means they will be open fewer days and fewer hours.

People are still calling the FNSB Aquatics program worried that a pool is being permanently shuttered.

 "We are still hearing from the community that Mary Siah is closing,” said Donnie Hayes, the Director of Parks and Recreation.

"And that's probably based on the fact that it is closing for maintenance. While at the same time there's still some confusion around the loss of the positions and what the expectation was from the Assembly."

He is referring to the cut of 3.6 full-time-equivalent positions from the Aquatics program budget.

A quick check of the Parks and Recreation calendar shows Hamme Pool the only one open. But that’s because Mary Siah Recreation Center and Westcott Pool are closed for annual maintenance – that will go until June 30. Then it’s Hamme Pool’s turn starting July 1st. And that’s when the Aquatics program will be shaving the nearly four full-time positions from the department.

“That’s gonna be a challenge.”

Brian Charlton is the Recreation Superintendent overseeing the pools, the Big Dipper and everything at Birch Hill Recreation Area. (86% of his section’s budget is salaries.)

“After the, the reduction in positions from the assembly's budget decisions, starting in FY 24, mean we're going to be open less days and less hours than we used to be," Charlton said.

All three pools will go from 7 days a week to five.

"We are also going to be having a reduction in the number of lessons, and then potentially the number of people we can put in a pool; the Red Cross has a ratio of number of life cards to number of swimmers,” he said.

Charlton says they will be stretching the staff they have – which is about 12 full-time-equivalent positions, to cover safe swimming.

“So if we're short lifeguards, especially if maybe someone calls in sick or or travels, then we're gonna have to reduce the number of people that would be allowed, like in an open swim.”

In the new fiscal year, the permanent staff will be six: an Aquatics Manager, a facilities supervisor for each pool and two assistant facilities supervisors. There will be between 11 and 12 part-time benefited lifeguard positions. Then there is a classification of “casual” employees that fill in as little as 2 hours a week.

“At any time, there's 10 to 20 folks I would say that are listed as our casual folks, and some of those are people that have other jobs and come work for us in the evenings or weekends. And then we also have a lot college students, and high school students, which fill those casual positions,” he said. Charlton says Aquatics uses a lot of part-timers because the schedule is heaviest in the evenings at the Aquatics programs.

 “We have worked really hard to try to provide a schedule where we could keep all three pools open,” Hayes said.

Parks and Rec Director Hayes says he and the Aquatics staff have been working to find the best configuration since they learned about the budget cuts.

“It's not a perfect schedule. Swim teams are going to have a lost day. We'll have moved some scheduling around for them. There will be very little available morning swims for anybody. Less lessons being taught," he said.

For Hayes, the cutbacks are a bit of a revenue spiral; with fewer lessons and lap swimmers, fewer dollars in fees will be collected.

"All of these things will have a direct effect on the bottom line of revenue for the aquatic centers too,” Hayes said.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.