Port swimming pool a likely victim of pandemic

Officials recommend it not be opened while city weighs fate of beer garden, farmers market, park rentals

THE DAMAGE DONE BY a mudslide when the hill next to the Port Washington outdoor pool collapsed following a rainstorm last week is evident. City officials are expected to vote next week on whether to open the pool this summer, a decision likely to be influenced by the time needed to repair the damage from the mudslide and measures needed to be taken to deal with the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

It’s likely the Port Washington outdoor pool will be closed for the season this year and the fate of other events such as the beer gardens and farmers market hang in the balance as city officials grapple with what a summer in the midst of a pandemic looks like.

Aldermen last week indicated a willingness to close the pool this summer, and City Administrator Tony Brown said Tuesday that will be his recommendation as well.

“It’s unfortunate because many people enjoy the pool,” Brown said, but safety must come first.

Several aldermen agreed last week.

“It’s all about minimizing risk,” Ald. Dan Benning said. “I don’t know how we can control the risk, even with extra cleaning.”

Ald. Jonathan Pleitner added, “This is a prudent thing. I think we have to close the pool.”

The Common Council is expected to decide the matter when it meets June 2.

Aldermen are also expected on June 2 to consider whether to allow summer events on public property, whether to rent out the city parks for private events and whether to move ahead with some senior center and recreation programs.

The city has already decided not to allow events in June due to the coronavirus, Brown said.

“This is a write-off year,” Mayor Marty Becker said May 19. “I think it’s unfortunate, but we have to do what’s best for the people.”

The decision whether to open the pool for the season is a difficult one, aldermen said, particularly since the city’s beaches don’t have a significant swath of sand for people who want to lounge on the lakeshore and dip into the cold waters of Lake Michigan.
Recreation Director Kiley Schulte said if the pool were to open, the city would have to implement safety measures outlined in the Washington Ozaukee Public Health Department’s blueprint for reopening.

Those include limiting attendance to 25% of capacity, taking names and phone numbers of those at the pool to aid in potential contact tracing, providing personal protective equipment to guard and staff members, as well as adding sanitation measures.

“Once you start talking about adding this measure and that measure ... is it really worth it?” Brown asked the council.

Brown said Tuesday his recommendation is based on a number of factors, not the least of which is the fact that all the other pools in the area will be closed for the season.

“If we open the pool, we’ll probably have everybody and their brother here,” he said, and that’s likely to lead to issues with social distancing.

Asking teenage lifeguards to try and enforce social distancing is a difficult task, Brown added. 

“That’s a huge task to ask of them,” he told aldermen.

Even if the city were to open the pool, Brown said, limiting attendance will lead to lower revenues, increasing the amount of money the city would need to provide for the pool operations.

The city subsidizes the pool by an average of $70,000 annually, Schulte said.

Getting adequate staff members and training them, especially if the pool doesn’t open until July or later, would likely be difficult, Brown and Schulte said.

While some staff members are “very eager” to work at the pool, Schulte told aldermen that others have found different jobs. 

The amount of training required would likely increase due to the pandemic this year, especially since additional safety measures will need to be followed, she said, and that could further push back the start date for the pool.

In addition, the recent storms led to a mudslide next to the pool, and the force of the slide damaged not only the service road leading to the recreation center but also a retaining wall, the pool fence and landscaping.

The fence needs to be repaired before the pool is filled, Schulte said, and it takes two weeks to heat and treat the water.

“If you’re going through all these additional measures, maybe it’s time to pause,” Brown said. “Maybe we should be looking to enhance the experience for next year.”

The city’s playgrounds opened on Friday, Schulte said, with the addition of sanitation stations near the equipment and signage added. The restrooms are also being sanitized daily, she said.

Schulte said she is penciling in reservations for the city’s parks, but said she’s warning people that they may not stand.

“We’re in a holding period,” she said.

Aldermen are also expected to weigh in on when and if events like the beer gardens, farmers market and Fourth of July celebration will be allowed.

Brown offered the council several options, including not allowing any events at all and considering them 60 days before they are scheduled, when the sponsors apply for a permit. The council could also alter that time frame to 45 to 30 days, he said, which would potentially allow more events to be held.

“This is clearly an unprecedented time. I don’t know if there is any right or wrong answer,” Brown said.

City Clerk Susan Westerbeke told the council last week that she has many pending applications for events.

Ald. John Sigwart suggested the city consider renting parks for private events.

“I understand when you have a festival it’s one thing,” he said. “If I’m going to have a wedding ... it may be something else.”

But Ald. Paul Neumyer disagreed, saying even if a small gathering is planned, others are likely to show up in a public park.


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