By Stephen Smoot
Although cold weather and other issues kept the pool from opening as planned, the first days that felt like summer saw kids diving and splashing as sunbathing parents looked on. The pool serves as a centerpiece for town sponsored recreation and a spot for kids to socialize safely.
Not every town in the area, however, has enjoyed enough good fortune to open a pool this year.
As Frank Wehrle, Franklin town administrator, explains, a successful pool operation starts with the right people, especially the recreational director. Not only does this official oversee the pool, he or she also must take charge of park activities. This includes keeping the concession stands running during the spring baseball and softball seasons, among other important tasks.
“It’s a frenetic pace,” Wehrle said.
When first starting the planning process, Wehrle stated that “our priority was the pool, to get it open.” Advertising for a new recreational director generated “quite a bit of interest.” Candidates quickly learned, however, that “it’s not easy.”
The perfect candidate, said Wehrle, was self-motivated, determined to see the park and the pool succeed, has a background in recreation, and has lifesaving experience to fill in for lifeguards. Another hiring obstacle lay in finding a person whose schedule fit the seasonal limitations of the job. Schoolteachers and other educational staff serve as the best pool of potential applicants.
“Literally the week before games started, we had a lifeguard from last year express interest,” he said. Although underage, her mother and grandmother also joined the team to fulfill the legal requirement that she work with an adult.
According to town officials, one individual who did make it look easy was Robrietta “Frisky” Lambert. Lambert ran the pool in the 1970s until taking a job as a schoolteacher.
In 2010, Lambert came on as the recreational director. Wehrle explained that “she wrote the book on what to do,” creating a set of processes and procedures that promoted effective and efficient management.
Some of the biggest challenges come from the human factor. A director must serve as the public relations face of the facility. “Patrons come in,” Wehrle said, “a lot have memberships.” A director must continually engage customers to “take the temperature of the public.”
Additionally, expectations have continually risen. In the early days of public pools, many of which in the Potomac Highlands date back to a 1970s era government initiative, no one complained of cold water. Despite the 2006 installation of a heater by then Mayor Pam Waybright, even still, the weather must cooperate to produce comfortable water temperatures.
A director must also manage lifeguards and other staff, usually teenagers and also usually working their first official job. This requires special abilities and flexibilities.
Over and above hiring the right people, every year the pool opening offers challenges. Some “faced pretty much every year,” include leaks and other normal maintenance issues.
While Franklin continues to enjoy use of the town pool, others are not so fortunate. Some towns, such as Keyser, that have struggled to keep their pool open, succeeded in doing so this year.
Others, such as Romney, could not. A post on the The Romney Community Pool Facebook page stated that “the numerous challenges that the pool facility faces means that we need to come up with a long-term plan for how to bring the pool back to life, keep it affordable for local residents, and make it financially sustainable.” It then listed the financial and other issues that prevented the opening, but described plans to open and renovate in the future.