A plan to reopen the Ouray Hot Springs Pool when the state indicates it’s safe to do so is marked by a bevy of restrictions — restricted hours, capacity, staffing and movement within individual pool areas.
Ouray city councilors voted 3-2 Monday to approve the plan, the most debated element of which is the temporary elimination of Pool Manager Kentee Pasek’s position. Mayor Greg Nelson, Mayor Pro Tem John Wood and Councilor Peggy Lindsey signed off on the plan, while councilors Glenn Boyd and Ethan Funk voted against it.
The plan, developed by City Resources Director Rick Noll and approved by acting City Administrator Melissa Drake and Ouray County Public Health Director Tanner Kingery, changes virtually everything about how the pool operates.
• Soaking pools will be open from 1 to 4 p.m. and 5 to 8 p.m., the same hours the fitness center will be open. Lap lanes will be open for lap swimming three days a week for two hours during one of the periods when the soaking pools are open. Pool staff will use the hour between pool openings to clean and disinfect.
• Customers will enter the pool through the west-end side gate near the snack shop, where a cashier station will be installed. Cashiers will wear masks and gloves. The lobby will be closed to the public.
• Customers will be asked if anyone in their group is feeling ill, or if they’ve been around anyone exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms in the past two weeks.
• Customers will be encouraged to wear their swim suits to and from the pool. The locker rooms will be open, but use of showers and lockers will be limited to encourage 6-foot distancing. The locker rooms will be disinfected during the afternoon hour the pool is closed. Restrooms will be sanitized at least every hour.
• Pool capacity will be limited to 154 people, less than half the design capacity under normal conditions. Limits will be 50 people in the shallow pool, 50 people in the hot pool and 54 people in the overlook pool. Guests will need to state which pool they want to use at the time of admission and be discouraged from changing pools in order to maintain proper spacing.
• The activity pool will remain closed for the duration of social distancing restrictions. Swim lessons are eliminated for the time being.
• Temporary markings will be installed every 6 feet on the perimeter of the pools to help people maintain safe distancing.
• Hand sanitizer will be available for customers and employees.
• Face masks, face shields and instant-read thermometers will be available for pool staff.
• Admission prices will remain the same. Memberships will be extended for an amount of time equal to the period of time the pool has been closed.
Noll said he’s less concerned about virus transmission within the pools — the Centers for Disease Control said last month there’s no evidence COVID-19 can be spread through water, and that disinfection with chlorine and bromine should inactivate the virus in the water — and more worried about it being spread in gathering places such as standing in line and in locker rooms and restrooms.
He said he is waiting on guidance from the American Red Cross on protocols lifeguards should follow if they have to perform a rescue.
Noll estimated the pool will need 150 customers each day to generate enough revenue for the city to cover operational expenses and the pool’s debt. Nelson and Wood expressed reservations about the break-even point.
“We can’t be getting ourselves further in the hole by operating this thing,” Nelson said of the pool.
The most controversial detail of the plan is the temporary elimination of the pool manager position, a job held by Pasek since March 2019.
Drake told councilors the elimination of the post “has nothing to do with persons and personalities. This is a plan strictly related to the survival of the pool.”
The plan also temporarily eliminates the assistant manager position, which has been vacant for more than a year, and the aquatics coordinator position, which has been vacant for roughly a month.
Noll will serve as the pool manager for the time being, although Boyd and Funk questioned whether he will have time for that in addition to his other duties.
Funk proposed instead eliminating the customer service supervisor job. Drake said that would change the city’s profit-and-loss margin, and she and Noll would have to recalculate how many customers would be needed per day to allow the city to break even on pool operations.
Several residents encouraged the council to retain Pasek.
Ouray resident Lynne Evans said having a dedicated pool manager is a matter of safety.
“If we were to have a serious accident or, God forbid, a death, it would be the undoing of that swimming pool,” she said. “We can do without a customer service rep manager We cannot do without someone on deck that has all the certifications our current pool manager has.”
Ouray resident Ron James said he formerly served as the lead cashier at the pool. He said he resigned the position because he didn’t feel it was necessary. He claimed Noll’s proposal for staffing and splitting the hours of operation into two three-hour shifts “is basically logistically impossible.” He also asked if Noll would move his office from City Hall to the pool.
Noll responded that he planned to spend at least part of his day at the pool.
It’s unknown when the city will be able to put the plan into action. The pool has been closed since March 16, and most pools across Colorado will remain closed through at least the end of May under the state’s Safer at Home order.