Public Watchdog.org

The Old Oakton Bucket

10.16.07

If Oakton Pool were a private business, it would have been shuttered by the Summer of 2005 when its signature feature, the diving well, became inoperable – and two different engineering firms concluded that the entire pool complex is so outdated that it is past the point even of being renovated.

That’s because competent business managers would have realized that running an old, money-losing outdoor community pool for three months a year in a dicey climate like ours is foolish; especially when we already have much more outdoor-pool water than we have people who want to use it.  Savvy managers also would have noted that Oakton has been the worst-attended of our three full-size outdoor pools, which is one reason why it is on target to book another $75,000 operating loss this year. 

That’s $75,000 down the drain, literally and figuratively, to keep a crumbling relic on life support with a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, rather than demolish it and turn that site into green space while a viable plan for a more worthwhile alternative use is developed.

But we don’t have competent business managers at the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District.  We have bureaucrats and politicians for whom a “break-even” program is beyond their grasp, and who regard the term “profits” as so vulgar that they prefer to pander to a small but vocal minority of residents by keeping open a facility that neither the Park District staff nor its Board has any idea how to manage – other than with benign neglect.

So it comes as no surprise that the Park Board, at its October 4th meeting, beat a hasty retreat from its year-old decision to demolish Oakton this December.  What little common sense and resolve the Park Board had demonstrated in this matter was easily routed by approximately 25 residents who shamelessly demanded that Oakton Pool be kept open no matter what it costs the taxpayers.  A final decision is expected at the November 15 Board meeting.

Because the Park District is not a home rule body, it needs to go to referendum to issue the bonds it would need to replace the current Oakton pool complex with another aquatic facility.  In April 2005, however, the voters overwhelmingly rejected (70% to 30%) a new $13 million Oakton aquatic center.  Less than two years later, they handily rejected (57% to 43%) a $9.98 million aquatic center. 

Most of the arguments for keeping Oakton Pool open or rebuilding it, as reported in last week’s local newspapers, came from lap swimmers and Oakton neighbors who see nothing wrong with the taxpayers subsidizing their enjoyment of a conveniently located money-losing 50 meter pool.  The goofiest argument came from Park District Commissioner Terry Majewski, who runs his swimming programs out of Oakton and who – with a remarkably straight face – branded Oakton “a landmark, comparable to the Pickwick Theater.” 

But putting aside such hyperbole, the Park Board and District Staff have totally failed this community in how they have dealt with Oakton Pool.  On one hand, they have failed to display the brains necessary to come up with any ideas for increasing attendance and operating that pool more profitably while they keep it open.  Conversely, they have failed to display the guts needed to make the sound business decision to close the pool and find another use for that site. 

Instead, the Board and Staff appear content to simply sit and watch the red ink flow until the lap pool and wading pool crater like the diving well did in 2005, thereby taking this decision out of their hands.  Kind of makes us wonder whether “Management by Inertia” is a required course at park district school.

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