After weeks of criticism from City Hall about Bibb Countys handling of public pools this summer, County Commission Chairman Sam Hart said Tuesday the public will have greater access to the pools.
Hart also touted a program aimed at children who live in areas of the county without pools. They can ride a bus to the Booker T. Washington pool at 391 Monroe St. at no cost to them.
For the past few weeks, members of the Macon City Council have criticized Bibb County for having just three of the countys six public pools ready to open at the beginning of the summer. But at a Tuesday news conference at the Memorial Park pool, Hart noted the county is working harder to accommodate the public than the city did when it ran the pools.
At the news conference, Hart announced plans to extend the pool hours at all three public pools currently open -- Memorial Park, Booker T. Washington and East Macon.
In addition, the county is offering free public swim classes twice a day. When the city ran the pools, officials said, there was usually one swimming class per day, and it cost $25 for the two-week session.
I think were doing quite a bit, said Hart, who noted three of the six pools the county inherited from the city as part of the Service Delivery Strategy were in no shape to be used. All this came about because we were not able to open all the pools. We were concerned about not being able to open two of the pools (Bloomfield and Frank Johnson) until later this summer. What we decided to do was to extend the hours (at the open pools).
Hart said the changes arent a direct response to the City Council criticism. The county last week decided to go with the changes and waited until this week to put them in place. Bibb officials wanted to be certain there were enough buses and lifeguards for the plan to work, he said.
Macon Councilwoman Elaine Lucas, who has been one of the countys critics for not having all the pools open, on Tuesday praised the changes the county has made.
I think its great, she said. It addresses a real need. ... Im really pleased, really excited that they are doing what they are.
County officials wouldnt say how much the busing plan would cost the Parks & Recreation Department, but they said total expenses for the pools and busing program wouldnt cost more than operating all six pools.
At the Memorial Park pool Tuesday, there were 23 boys ages 9 to 11 from the Bloomfield neighborhood, some of whom took the bus for swimming lessons.
Hart said work is being done to renovate the closed pools, with repairs costing about $100,000 per pool. Those repairs will be paid with special purpose local option sales tax money. Officials are hopeful the Bloomfield and Frank Johnson pools will open in July. Freedom Parks pool will remain closed this summer, and it was closed all last summer because of the needed repairs.
Macon-Bibb County Parks & Recreation Director Dale Doc Dougherty said crews are working on the Bloomfield and Frank Johnson pools, but it has been slow going because of the recent wet weather.
Whats hurting us is the rain, he said. We keep emptying water from the pools. Were having to pump it out, which slows us down.
Dougherty said the pools will be open a week later than usual, closing for the summer on Aug. 3, after school begins. Traditionally, the pools closed a week before school starts.
In addition to the youth swimming classes, Hart said the East Macon pool will have specific hours for senior citizens, every Thursday from 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. The cost is $1 per person.
We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to use them, he said.
Hart said once all the pools are back in shape, the countys Parks & Recreation Department will regularly maintain them.
One of the things were going to make sure of is that they never get back into the shape we found them in, Hart said. The pools were in horrible condition. Were going to have a maintenance schedule so that they will never be in this shape again.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.