Admission rates to the Hays Aquatic Park won’t go up when the pool opens again at the end of this May.
Both the daily rates and season passes will remain the same, as agreed by the Hays City Commission last Thursday evening at their regular meeting.
Hays pool admission fees are among the lowest in the state, according to Parks Department director Jeff Boyle.
Each year, Boyle does a rate comparison with similar pools in the state.
“The commission has over the years directed us that they want us to continue to be that way, keep our prices down and make it affordable to everyone,” Boyle said at one of the commission’s two recent Thursday meetings. “Great Bend matches us to a T.”
Boyle and Hays Recreation commission superintendent Roger Bixenman updated the commissioners about 2019’s pool operations.
City Commissioner Ron Mellick asked if Hays Rec, which is contracted by the city to operate its two city-owned pools, was recommending rate hikes. Bixenman said no.
“We discussed it at the December board meeting. As far as the rates, we feel like they’re good,” Bixenman said. “We feel like it’s affordable for our families who come to the pool.”
More than 50,800 people played at the Hays Aquatic Park in 2019, up from 49,670 in 2018, Boyle said.
The park, which opened Memorial Day weekend on May 25, was open for fewer days in 2019 due to bad weather, with 71 days. That compared to 74 days in 2018. Average daily attendance in 2019 was 716, compared to 671 in 2018.
“It was a good year, we had a lot of folks here. Not as good as the first year when the pool first opened, but it was a great year,” Boyle said at the commission’s Jan. 16 work session.
Hays Aquatic Park and Wilson Pool lost more money in 2019 than in 2018, Boyle said.
For 2019, the Hays City Commission agreed to reimburse the Hays Recreation Commission $26,289 for operating the pools, compared to $19,668 in 2018.
In all, this year the two pools combined lost a total of $52,289. The last rate increase was 2014 at Hays Aquatic Park, which costs more to operate than Wilson Pool, where rates are lower because it doesn’t have play features or heated water, Boyle said.
By contract, Hays Rec and the city split the loss 50-50 up to $26,000 each, and then after that the city pays the remainder.
“There are a lot of quality of life things going on in this community,” said Mayor Shaun Musil. “I hate seeing that loss, but I think we’ve said this many years, it’s one of these things we have to deal with unfortunately.”
City Commissioner Sandy Jacobs agreed.
“I’m totally in favor of moving this forward and taking care of our share of this, I think it’s a quality-of-life issue in our community,” Jacobs said. “I spend a lot of time there with grandkids when they’re in town.”
She told Boyle, Bixenman, some Hays Rec board of directors and pool staff at the meeting, “You guys do a great job and it’s a wonderful pool.”
The Hays Aquatic Park is one of the oldest pools in the state, along with Hutchinson, Boyle said.
Season passes are a strong source of revenue, with most of the sales coming from the early bird special, he said.
The season pass is $40, or $35 for the early bird. Hays season passes are a little lower compared to other towns, Boyle said.
“We do sell a lot of season passes, and it’s a good way to get our money early,” he said. “As Commissioner Jacobs mentioned last week, it’s a good way to guarantee on those cloudy, cold days, to guarantee some revenue.”
For the 2020 season, the pool opens Saturday, May 23 — Memorial Day weekend — according to Hays Aquatics director Grant Lacy. Early bird passes go on sale May 1, Lacy said.
In 2018, the city’s payment to Hays Rec was larger because of the new aquatic feature built at the Hays Aquatic Park. The $185,000 structure has 14 play features, including two slides and a large water bucket drop.
“It was a very well-attended feature we had down there this year, it was constantly just a standing-room-only feature,” Boyle said.
City Commissioner Michael Berges said he noticed that the pool losses fluctuate a lot from year to year.
“There’s about a 55 percent swing between ups and downs,” Berges said. “How soon do you start projecting for 2020 where that’s going to fall?"
Boyle said there are a few costs that influence the size of the loss, like staining the pool every three to four years at a cost of $25,000 or more. But it’s mostly a factor of attendance, which is influenced by weather.
“Weather can create a huge impact on what we think or hope will happen,” Boyle said, noting bad weather lowers attendance. “It just drops off and we literally just lose money those days.”
Two new lifeguards were also added along with the new play feature, Bixenman said.
“We did increase a couple of lifeguard positions,” he said. “That number’s increased a little bit because of safety and line of sight and seeing the pool.”
Also, USD 489 offered its employees season passes through a grant, lowering the number of season passes the pool sold outright, Bixenman said.
Boyle said year-to-date pool expenses to the general fund budgets, including the Hays Rec reimbursement, are $138,937.27.
That includes everything it takes to maintain the pools, including chemicals, structural repairs, contractual services payment to HRC, paint, electrical/gas and mechanical pumping systems, according to Boyle.