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Draining money: Municipal pools too costly for many communities

Nina Garner, Rianna Anderson and Trinity Moore, all 10-year-olds from Merrillville, run through the Wicker Memorial Park splash pad in Highland during opening day Saturday. Some municipalities are veering away from operating public pools for safety and financial reasons and many are opting for splash pads.

Government entities, like businesses, are wise to consider what the market will bear — what citizens demand and will support via actual attendance — when determining publicly funded leisure options.

Local government leaders also must determine what's in the best interest of their constituents' overall well being.

For many decades, municipal swimming pools were a mainstay quality of life offering in many communities. On hot summer days, folks would flock to the publicly maintained facilities in droves.

Many children over the years have learned to swim in such facilities, making their contributions to the community invaluable.

But in some communities, this has changed, and officials are wise to reboot and consider other options.

Hammond is doing that now. Citing safety concerns and a downturn in attendance, Hammond officials recently chose not to open its municipal swimming pools this summer.

The top reasons cited by Hammond officials — safety and needed repairs — are sound enough reasons for the decision.

But officials also noted declining attendance at the city's four pools factored into the decision.

And well it should.

Beyond the issue of maintaining public swimming pools is the greater issue of Region communities attempting to provide quality of life amenities residents actually want and will use — features that also could draw in new residents.

Given the pool closures, Hammond is in a good position to re-evaluate what its municipal market will bear.

Some communities have opted to partner with other facilities, including local YMCAs, to ensure residents have access to swimming facilities. Hammond could consider this.

Some communities have opted for popular and more cost-effective splash pads rather than municipal pools. Valparaiso and North Township's Wicker Park, in Highland, have such facilities, which don't contain deep water and require no lifeguard.

Many lakeshore communities, including Michigan City, have done a masterful job at marketing clean municipal beaches at one of the largest freshwater swimming pools in the world — Lake Michigan — sans chlorine.

Though often turbulent lake waters aren't the best place for future generations to learn to swim.

Leaders of some Northwest Indiana communities, including Gary, East Chicago and Crown Point, have decided continuing to operate municipal swimming pools is in the best interest of their constituents.

If residents continue to demand such facilities — and urge support through both tax dollars and attendance — then keeping municipal pools open is the right call.

But it's always wise for Region communities to periodically re-evaluate what they're offering residents and ensure the best bang for municipal buck and quality of life are achieved.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Assistant Local News Editor Crista Zivanovic and Regional News Editor Sharon Ross.