Sunset Hills will not open its pool this year.
The decision to close the Sunset Hills Aquatic Facility in Watson Trail Park comes because of the timing and extra regulations that would be required if the city opened the pool due to COVID-19, the city said in the announcement.
The city said in a news release that it was a “difficult decision,” based on ability to cooperate with social distancing and other regulations, health and safety and finances.
The Board of Aldermen will meet at 10 a.m. Friday in a special videoconferenced Zoom meeting to consider whether to approve a collaboration with the city of Crestwood to subsidize the cost of memberships for existing Sunset Hills pool members who want to swim this year at the Crestwood Aquatic Center, which is opening Monday, June 15.
Under the plan, any existing members of the Sunset Hills Aquatic Facility could purchase memberships to the Crestwood pool at Crestwood resident rates, with the difference between the resident rate and the Lindbergh Schools discount rate potentially made up by Sunset Hills.
Crestwood had a leg up on Sunset Hills in being able to reopen because Crestwood contracts with a pool management company rather than self-managing, said Crestwood Mayor Grant Mabie. Considering what Mabie called the “fairly onerous rules” from the county and weeks of uncertainty leading to the release of the county guidelines, roughly half the municipalities in the county with pools have chosen not to open them this year, he said.
Sunset Hills said in a news release, “We know many of our residents, guests, swim teams and others look forward to the summertime and activities at our aquatic facility. This is yet another hardship because of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
The city came to the decision while St. Louis County was still under a stay-at-home order that did not allow municipal pools to open at all. This restriction remained in place when the order was partially relaxed May 18.
Even with the restriction set to be lifted, the city said it was told by the county to expect strict protocols including limits on capacity, 6 feet of social distancing and requirements for additional filtration systems which Sunset Hills does not currently have.
“These protocols will be very difficult for the City to follow and still provide a safe and enjoyable experience,” the city said.
Officials added that “health and safety issues like keeping restrooms, tables, lounge chairs and other common areas clean and sanitized are a nearly impossible challenge when we have hundreds of people visiting the pool every day. Maintaining social distancing in these areas would also be very difficult. Even if we were able to meet county requirements, we could not guarantee the health and safety of our patrons.”
Lifeguards are also first responders who on average will enter the pool to assist a guest who is in distress when the aquatic facility is open, in addition to roughly five to seven first aid cases each day when the pool is open.
“Each response would expose our lifeguards to an unprotected situation and place them in jeopardy,” the city said. “Oftentimes, more than one lifeguard responds to an incident.”
Finances also played a role in the decision.
“Like every other local or state government, we are facing significant sales tax revenue losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on the economy,” which could require changes to the budget, Sunset Hills said.
The Aquatic Facility is not a self-funded facility and relies on sales tax generated in the city to operate. The fees and memberships collected from pool users do not cover the costs of running operations.
Anyone who already purchased a 2020 aquatic membership will be refunded, the city said.
“This Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us to make tough choices. We will always try to consider the options that will benefit our city residents now and looking towards the future stability and success of Sunset Hills,” the city said in the release. “We look forward to resuming a normal pool season in 2021.”