Delaware Public Media

Community pools try to provide some semblance of summer

May 29, 2020

Delaware begins Phase 1 of its reopening plan this Monday June 1. But even as many things start to come back to life, how they operate will be different.

That’s especially true for a number of traditional summer activities.

Last week, we offered a look at how summer camps are affected.  This week, we turn to another summer staple: community pools.

They are allowed to open, but with restrictions, and contributor Eileen Dallabrida this week spent some time surveying First State pools to see what their plans and expectations are.


After 100 years, DuPont Country Club finally has a swimming pool—two pools, in fact, a 25-meter six-lane lap pool with a diving well for competition and a zero-entry pool with a slide for children and families.

The club anticipated making a big splash in unveiling its aquatic program, a lynchpin in its $18-million transformation from a corporate-owned, golf-centric entity to a family-friendly magnet for recreation and relaxation.

“And then came the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Robert Wirth, the club’s CEO.

With most of the world observing social-distancing protocols, clubs and other recreational facilities are taking a deep dive into what has become the new normal, finding ways to stay in the lane of government regulations while catering to members.

At DuPont, which opens its pools on May 29, the club is admitting 100 members at a time in two-hour blocks, with a 15-minute buffer in between for staff to clean tables and chairs for the next group.

“We will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. so we can accommodate 400 people in a day,” Wirth says.

The Memorial Day weekend was the unofficial kickoff to the summer season. While most clubs pushed back their opening dates, the YMCA Delaware was the first to put a toe in the pool, welcoming members to the Western family YMCA 10-lane outdoor pool in Bear and the Middletown Family Silver Lake pool.

 

CEO Deborah Bagatta-Bowles says the water was a chilly 68 degrees but that was not a deterrent to children who had been cooped up at home since March. About 500 members visited the pools over the course of the three-day holiday weekend. It wasn’t as many people as typically patronize the pools on Memorial Day, but the turnout reflected the experience of Ys across the country, where attendance is down across the board.

“Not everybody is rushing back,” Bagatta-Bowles says. “Some people are more comfortable waiting a while.”

Carol Mayhart figures she will be ready to venture out when Snuff Mill Swim Club in Centreville opens in mid-June. Membership is capped at 110 patrons a year, so there are no worries about difficulty maintaining social distance.

“Typically, there is never a crowd there, less than 20 most days, so I feel OK with it,” she says.

"Not everybody is rushing back. Some people are more comfortable waiting a while." - YMCA of Delaware CEO Deborah Bagatta-Bowles

State-mandated guidelines restrict pools to allowing visitors to 20 percent of their maximum capacity. Because pools and decking are surrounded by fencing, they do not fall into the state’s open-air category, which will permit outdoor gatherings such as weddings of 250 people or less starting June 1, according to Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Delaware Division of Public Health.

In order to comply with guidelines, a number of clubs are asking members to make reservations for swim times in order to limit capacity. Bagatta-Bowles says the Ys are not locking in spots due to the expansive footprint of the facilities.

After two-plus months of mandated social distancing, she says patrons are compliant with safety regulations.

“They show up with face coverings and are great about spacing six feet apart on the deck,” she says.

The Y has invested in infrastructure and procedures to ensure safety, such as opening every other shower and every other sink. Chairs and decking also are misted regularly with a disinfectant fogging system, “which costs an absolute fortune.”

Throughout the state, various groups are offering diverse strategies for getting patrons safely into the water. At the recently renovated Lane Swim Club in North Wilmington, members are urged to bring their own chairs, and then whisk them home after designated swim times. Early morning hours are reserved for senior citizens, who are at greater risk for contracting the virus.

Lane Swim Club opened for the first time this summer Friday, May 29
Credit Delaware Public Media

The Centers for Disease Control says outdoor activities are less risky than indoor events. Additionally, "there is no evidence that the virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread to people through the water in pools, hot tubs, spas or water play areas. Proper operation and maintenance, including disinfection with chlorine and bromine of these facilities should inactivate the virus in the water."

At most clubs, you can’t bring a guest. Some are allowing members to bring their own food and drink because snack shacks and pool bars aren’t open. Some clubs are encouraging members to change into their swimsuits and shower at home. Others are reconfiguring locker rooms to comply with government guidelines.

Here are changes members might expect in the first wave of swim club openings:

  • No swimming lessons. They are prohibited in the latest government guidelines.
  • Make a reservation. Some clubs are requiring members to reserve a timeslot, typically one hour or two hours. Others are not.
  • No rafts, no floats, no pool toys allowed. Personal floatation devices are permitted.
  • Expect to see lifeguards and other staff have their temperatures taken when they report for work.
  • No playgrounds, sandpits or grills will be open in Phase One.

Fair Blue Swim Club in North Wilmington plans to open June 6 with restrictions in place.
Credit Delaware Public Media

A communication to members at Fair Blue in North Wilmington spells out the rules: “To begin the season, the snack shack, water fountain, volleyball court, basketball court, playground area, sandpit, swings, grills, and tetherball court will be closed per directions from the Governor’s previous communications.  The guard desk will not have extra goggles or balls to share.  At this point, we are not permitting toys at the pool (including in the baby pool) except for weighted/diving toys. Floats/rafts not be allowed at the pool.  As the season unfolds and state restrictions are lessened or lifted, we will open these amenities up to our membership.”  

 

The pandemic also has thrown cold water on competitive meets at swim clubs. Members of the North Brandywine Swim League (NBSL) Board and Pool Representative Committee voted unanimously to cancel the 2020 season. The group approved a one-year eligibility extension for swimmers who would have aged out of the system, allowing them to compete in 2021. At country clubs, plans for inter-club meets currently are on hold.

That’s created a ripple effect for businesses that supply swim teams. For 40 years, the Swim Shop in North Wilmington has been selling suits to competitive swimmers at community pools. The teams picked out their suits in February, in anticipation of fittings in April.

“But when the suits came in, the season was shut down,” says owner Starr Quill.

The teams didn’t pay for suits they can’t use. That means Quill can’t pay her vendors. That creates a tsunami of woe for manufacturers such as Speedo, which recently had to rent a third warehouse because a glut of inventory had outgrown its two existing warehouses.

Quill’s other revenue streams—fashion suits for spring break and cruise wear—also have been wiped out by the pandemic. She has reopened under the state’s guidelines loosening restrictions on retailers, selling designer suits at half-price.

“We aren’t making a profit but it does bring some money in,” she says.

At the Y, Bagatta-Bowles wants to ramp up scholarships so members who have suffered financial hardship during the pandemic can get in the swim.

 

On June 1, the Y will open its first indoor pools, in Bear, Brandywine Hundred, Dover, Central in Wilmington and the Sussex facility in Rehoboth Beach. As the season ramps up and demand increases, the Y plans to open its Hanby outdoor pool, Brandywine’s south pool, Walnut Street’s indoor pool in Wilmington, Western’s outdoor pool complex in Newark, Bear’s outdoor pool complex, and Dover’s outdoor pool, and four-lane indoor pool.

At DuPont Country Club, swim instructors and lifeguards have been hired and trained. The staff is poised to open the outdoor kitchen and bar and start serving burgers, chicken fingers and beer as soon as Gov. John Carney gives the greenlight.

“The very first day it’s allowed we will be out there giving lessons and getting programs together,” Wirth says.