Covington pool hits swimming milestone

Covington Aquatic Center staff celebrated a major milestone Nov. 15 when the 100,000th in-water customer of 2013 came through the doors.

Covington Aquatic Center staff celebrated a major milestone Nov. 15 when the 100,000th in-water customer of 2013 came through the doors.

Linda Lee of Covington was the patron who hit the lucky number and was surprised with a free one-year aqua family membership for the Covington Aquatic Center.

Attendance has been a particular focus for pool staff for more than a year. A new marketing plan was implemented, a restructured fee schedule was put into place last year which increased some fees and reduced others which in conjunction with a significant increase in patrons created a considerable bump in attendance, according to information provided by Karla Slate, the city’s communications and marketing manager.

In fact, the staff set a goal of 93,000 in-water visits for this year but surpassed that goal in October. If the current rate continues, the attendance will be close to 110,000 program participants by the end of the year. This would constitute an increase of 25 percent over the previous year.

“Our special events like spooky swims and float in movies have been selling out,” said Interim Aquatics Supervisor Rachel Bahl. “We have added a lot of popular programs and even the participation in our established programs increased dramatically this year.”

With a greater revenue stream and increased patronage, pool staff expanded programing in areas of need for seniors, water safety and drowning education.

Running a public pool is an expensive proposition, and there were times in the past nine years, Slate wrote in an email earlier this month, that discussion surrounding the Aquatic Center’s budget was difficult because it was not self-sufficient. The attendance increase is significant, then, not only because it surpassed the number of in-water patrons of 2012, but it also blew by the goal the staff set for the year. One of the goals for 2012, as stated in the city’s budget document for last year, was to achieve 70 percent cost recovery. In 2011, there were just shy of 82,000 in-water visits and in 2012 there were 92,949.

The Covington Aquatic Center first opened its doors as a King County-owned facility March 3, 1977. Ownership was transferred to the city of Covington in 2004.

It is home to the Kentlake High School swim and dive teams, the Tahoma High School swim and dive teams, Kentridge High School’s water polo teams, a KING Aquatic Club swim team as well as Raise the Bar’s triathlon team.

Covington Aquatic Center is also used by the Tahoma School District, Kent School District, King County marine/dive unit, Kent Fire Department swift water rescue, local churches, scout groups, kayak groups and more.

In 2006 and 2007, the city invested in improvements for the Covington Aquatic Center that have given the facility a much needed facelift and extended its lifespan so the community can continue to enjoy aquatic recreation.

This project earned Covington Aquatic Center the 2008 Washington Recreation and Parks Association Spotlight Facility and Park Award.

Another renovation project is underway at the pool. The Aquatic Center is in need of a new roof. There are several other features of the project such as art installation, a recreation rental room addition and conversion of the current rental space back to a storage facility in the building. Fred French was hired in October 2012 to serve as a part-time, as needed project manager and Taproot Architects designed and developed concept drawings.

The cost of the work is covered by a $400,000 Washington State Commerce Grant.

When the work is complete in early 2014, according to information provided in September by Scott Thomas, the city’s parks and recreation director, it will only increase the Aquatic Center’s ability to serve patrons, whether they are Covington residents or not. This could lead to even greater attendance and revenues.

“It is going to be fabulous to be able to have birthday parties or other kinds of functions,” Thomas told the Reporter in September. “This new room is going to be associated with the plaza … so the aquatic center is really going to be able to provide a lot more service to the community than we have in the past. It’s really going to be great. It’s going to make the aquatic center a lot more versatile.”