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Bulloch at loss for how to solve empty public pool problem

    It's a typical summer Saturday at Splash in the Boro. The sweet smell of sunscreen mixes with the happy sounds of children speeding down the water slides and the serenity of folks floating around the aquatic park's lazy river.  
     Just a few miles from Mill Creek Park sit two pools that not long ago also were filled with the joyous sounds of hot summer days spent in the water. But the pools at Memorial Park and on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Statesboro now sit empty.
    Neither meet state health requirements due to age and disrepair, and Bulloch County does not have the funds to repair and replace the pool systems.
    The City of Statesboro actually owns the park property, but after House Bill 489 transferred many responsibilities over to the county, the City has no obligation to make the repairs,  said Statesboro City Manager George Wood.
    "We make the facilities available to the county and they operate them and keep them up," he said, adding that the city offered the parks to the county on a free 50-year lease.
    Bulloch County Manager Tom Couch said future plans are to create a zero-depth splash pool at the Fair Road Memorial Park, but action to be taken with the Louetta Moore Park on Martin Luther King Boulevard is still under discussion.
    The community opinion is split over whether the pool should be repaired or the community building be renovated. "We can't afford both," he said."
    Neither pool meets the health code, said Mike Rollins, director of the Statesboro-Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department. "The pumps are old and outdated. The Louetta Moore pool is probably over 40, close to 50 years old.  The Fair Road pool was redone about 10-12 years ago, and since then the state significantly upgraded requirements for public pools."
    
House Bill 489
    When House Bill 489 was passed a few years ago, several city-operated services and facilities were transferred over to the county, Wood explained. Recreation services were included in this transition, along with the local airport, library and animal shelter.
    "We're transitioning away from having individual parks and separate recreation departments," he said. "You have one recreation department now, funded county-wide."
    The county operates all parks in other Bulloch municipalities, and Statesboro is no different, he said.
    But with the county in a financial crunch, the money isn't there to fix the pools in the city. Couch said it would take about $500,000 to repair the Louetta Moore Park pool, which the health department mandated closing two years ago.
    "The Fair Road pool was shut down because of budget cuts, but it has issues as well," he said.
    The "kiddie pool" has absolutely no filtration, and the larger pool, built in 1946, is in need of major improvements, Rollins said.
    A public pool requires life guards, maintenance and incurs other costs. In a time when county expenditures were being slashed, and considering the county just opened Splash in the Boro, which generated a significantly higher amount of revenue than the Fair Road pool, the decision to close the Memorial Park pool was made, he said.
    And in recent years, the city pools showed "a significant lack of attendance, especially after July 1. Some days we might have had 10-12 kids the whole day," he said.
    When people saw the pools filled, it was usually private parties that had reservations, he said.
    "A lot of places are going to the splash parks, which are zero depth and more like a water playground," he said.
    Couch realizes  that not every family can afford to send their children to Splash in the Boro, the water park at Mill Creek Regional Park, and that there are transportation issues for lower-income families as well.
    Rollins said children under 12 are not allowed at the water park unsupervised, but added that the park does offer group rates and that some local civic clubs have sponsored programs to help fund trips to the water park for youth who qualify as low-income.
    "We've kept the fees extremely low, compared to other facilities," he said. "A group rate is $5 a person, for the whole day, and I don't think you can touch that."
    Still, Couch realizes that some city youth cannot feasibly take advantage of Splash in the Boro for either financial reasons, transportation issues or both.
    "We recognize the people in the west Statesboro communities still have a demand for aquatic facilities," he said. "The county certainly views it as an issue we need to look at."
    
What citizens want
    Pearl Brown, president of the Bulloch Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), said she hopes the county does consider the needs of those who cannot afford the Splash in the Boro fees and who do not have transportation to the water park.
    A zero depth water playground would be nice, but would not be enough, she said.
    "I really don't think it would be adequate," she said. "The kids couldn't swim. That's just not quite the same, especially for larger kids. That would not replace a pool."
    During the summer, many children are left home while parents continue to work, she said. Older siblings once were able to walk or bike with their younger brothers or sisters to the city pools, where "a couple of bucks would get them in" and they could spend the afternoon playing in the park and then cooling off with a swim.
    That is no longer an option, she said.
    And while Statesboro's west side community does want a community park and building where events an be held, they also want a pool, she said.
    "The Bulloch County NAACP has spearheaded an effort to get a community center to be built at the Louetta Moore Park," she said. "But the citizens are also wanting a pool for the children, where kids can walk  to the pool and pay to get in."
    A recent trip to Splash in the Boro for some of her young relatives cost around $30, she said. "Not all families can afford that," and children who must walk or bike to their destinations cannot safely travel the distance to Mill Creek Park.
    "During these really hot days (community youth) would love to have access to a pool," she said. "Since the (Memorial Park  and Louetta Moore Park) pools closed, they have been denied that access."
    Couch said serious attention is being given to the Louetta Moore Park situation and that the city may have some responsibility regarding the facilities.
    "I don't think (the NAACP) are going to let the city off the hook with this building and I don't think we will either," he said.
    A needs assessment is planned for the park, which he said " has a bigger set of issues than just a pool."

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