by Jonathan Weaver
A handful of options to possibly upgrade the Belmont Complex swimming pool in East Franklin Township were analyzed and debated by residents and swimmers last night.
County Planning and Development Program Manager Tom Swisher brought the audience up-to-date.
“This (was) a continuation of the feasibility study that was just concluded – through that feasibility study, the study revealed the significant cost that it would be to upgrade the pool to today’s standards, so with the money left over within the grant budget, commissioners asked Pashek Associates to look for alternative recreational opportunities,” Swisher said.
To come up with those opportunities, Consultant Bob Good had to research Armstrong County through statistics, comparing options with those existing in the region and interviewing local personnel.
“In every single community that we’re in, everyone in the offseason wants to be indoors now. There’s big pressure to do something in an indoor facility,” Good said. “(Also) Swimming pools are shifting to a point where they are serving larger areas rather than smaller areas – becoming regional facilities instead of local facilities. And you can see that in Armstrong County.”
Local stakeholders reaffirmed those results for multi-purpose indoor sport facilities, but emphasized that there are a lack of local options for youth activities. Last Summer, more than a dozen local and regional residents – including the three previous commissioners, Belmont Complex Executive Director Gary Montebell and Head Lifeguard Leslie Campbell – started exchanging thoughts regarding the Belmont Complex pool.
Consultants recommended commissioners consider the indoor facility, a studio ice rink, an outdoor destination playground/spray park or a swimming pool upgrade.
“Any sort of indoor sports facility needs to be able to be used for different things at different times, and needs to be able to change with the times – not locked in for the long term,” Good said.
Either a studio ice rink or indoor facility would cost about $3 million, a destination playground less than $800,000 and a swimming pool upgrade about $1.4 million.
Commissioners Fabian and Jason Renshaw were among the 30 community residents in attendance at the community meeting, and answered concerns at the end of the evening – including regarding marketing costs.
John McCay, of Kittanning Borough, asked why commissioners can’t consider a combination of both the playground and swimming pool. A father of two children that swam in the pool, McCay visited the complex regularly.
“We brought the kids up three (or) four times per summer in the past, but with the weather this year, we thought it was worth to go ahead and purchase a regular membership this year. I brought my kids here probably 30-35 times,” McCay said.
Daughter, Charlie, was also on the swim team and son, Aidan, came following baseball camps.
10-year-old Larissa Frain, of Ford City, also visited the pool regularly during the summer with her babysitter, Hannah.
“I’m not going to lie – the pool is the only fun thing to do around here,” Frain said. “Is there anything we can do to keep the pool open?”
Frain’s mother, Teresa, grew up at Alameda Pool in Butler and father, Larry, grew up at the pool in Apollo Borough before it closed.
Other residents also advocated for keeping the pool.
Armstrong officials have seen a noticeable increase in membership and usability of the Belmont Complex pool and facilities this summer.
“Pool membership in 2016 was higher than it’s been in six years – public swim revenues were the second-highest. The last time you reached (revenues) that high was (also) in 2010,” Good reported.
Commissioner Chair Pat Fabian was encouraged by those statistics enhanced by warm water, but acknowledged County officials have to market the pool earlier in the season.
Montebell said following the meeting that he appreciated the community’s input that could be “very beneficial” in the future.
Regional facility examples include the Richard G. Snyder YMCA in Kittanning, the ice rink/Astroturf field SBT Arena in White Township (Indiana County), and Cool Springs Sports Complex in Pittsburgh
Good was concerned with population density in the county – a factor for regular use at such a facility – and others were also concerned with U.S. Census Bureau statistics that show average household income.
Using statistics provided by other youth sports agencies, Good found that there is an overall nine percent drop in participation, as well as a nine percent drop in “core youth sports” – such as baseball, football and soccer.
However, one of the Belmont Complex’s key sports – ice hockey – increased by 44 percent during the past five years.
Swimming was not analyzed by experts.