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Fuller pool may close this winter

The west-side pool was open this past winter. But low use may doom it to closure this fall. A council member vows to keep it open.

By ROSALIND HELDERMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Walter Fuller pool stayed open all winter as a trial, but the initial city budget lacks money to do it again.

Last year, City Council member Robert Kersteen, who represents the area, spearheaded the effort to try year-round operations at the pool. Now that attendance and cost figures for the winter are in, money for a second year of winter operation is not budgeted. Kersteen is not happy.

"I'll get it one way or another," he said. "I say my constituents are paying for that pool to be open, and I want it open."

For Kersteen, the issue is one of convenience and exercise. He says more local swimmers will hit the pool in the winter if they don't have to drive all the way from the western part of the city to reach North Shore pool, the only other pool in St. Petersburg open all year.

"Time is a precious commodity for all of us," he said.

But for city officials, money matters, too.

The city paid almost $50,000 to keep Walter Fuller Pool, at 7883 26th Ave. N, open during the winter months last year. During that time, the pool was visited 5,444 times by area residents, which means the city paid about $9.15 for every swimmer who took a dip. Most of that money went to pay lifeguards and other staff, as well as to heat the pool in the cooler winter months.

Faced with the trial run numbers, leisure services dropped winter hours for Walter Fuller pool when the city asked for budget cuts this year.

"You have some people who say they'd like to not have to drive to get to a pool," said Leisure Services administrator Lee Metzger. "That's true and that's nice. But from a management perspective, you have to look at what cost this is to the rest of the city."

Metzger said his department did what it had to do to make ends meet. If the City Council decides Walter Fuller pool is worth the cost, he would be happy to oblige.

"If we had unlimited money, we'd have them all open all year around," Metzger said.

Kersteen is now fighting to get the council to add a little more than $60,000 into next year's budget for the pool. He organized a group of about a dozen Walter Fuller users to lobby the council at its first public hearing on the budget in May. The council will have two more public hearings on the budget before voting on a final version in early September.

Former Mayor Corinne Freeman is one of Kersteen's supporters. Though she doesn't plan on actively lobbying for the pool, Freeman says she has appreciated the chance to swim at the Walter Fuller Pool at 7 a.m. sharp all winter long.

"You can't drive down to North Shore and get back in time for work," Freeman said. "We all live out here. Why shouldn't we have the same facilities as people who live on the east side?"

St. Petersburg Aquatics head coach Fred Lewis also supports keeping the pool open. Most of his team practices at the Olympic-sized North Shore pool. This past winter, though, he rented the Walter Fuller pool in the afternoons to provide practice time for 35 members of his elementary school to college-age swim team.

"It's money, and I understand. But they forget that that's 35 kids using their time productively, and they're not out getting in trouble," he said.

Kersteen may face an uphill battle. Council member Bill Foster said he is still making up his mind, but the attendance numbers sound low.

"We don't have to be making money, but it needs to be pretty heavily used," he said.

But Kersteen is confident money can be found in the city's budget. He suggests trimming from the mayor's staff.

"If you don't find $60,000 in your budget and cut it, I will," he said. "That's my strategy."

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