Closing Oakton Pool – According To Yogi


For quite awhile the Park Ridge Park District’s “management” of Oakton Pool has reminded us of Yogi Berra’s comment about his team’s performance: “We made too many wrong mistakes.” 

That’s why we were gratified to read the front page story in today’s Park Ridge Journal, which reports the likelihood of the Park District making a decision on whether to close Oakton Pool at the Park Board’s June 17, 2010, meeting (“Closing Pool ‘Right Thing To Do’” June 9).

The story’s headline comes from a statement by Park District Executive Director Ray Ochromowicz, who correctly has identified Oakton Pool as a financial albatross around the District’s neck, flushing tens of thousands of scarce and precious tax dollars down its drains every summer.  And Ochromowicz has provided data that makes yet another compelling case for Oakton’s closure, including that in 2009 alone Oakton Pool:

*  accounted for 12.4% of the District’s revenue aquatic attendance but consumed 30% of the District’s aquatic expenses;

*  cost $10.93 per patron, versus $5.60 for Centennial and $5.28 for Hinkley; and

*  has lost more money than the other three outdoor pools combined over the last 3 years.

Ochromowicz also understands that Park Ridge has too much outdoor water for a community its size, especially when so little of it is of the water-park “entertainment” variety that caters to the current demand for aquatic “fun” at the expense of swimming for exercise or competitively. 

Sure, Oakton is our only pool designed for “competitive” swimming.  But it’s time to face the fact that neither Oakton nor any other outdoor pool in a climate like Chicago’s is going to become a breeding ground for competitive swimmers to rival places like Mission Viejo, CA or Coral Springs, FL.  Like it or not, the era of outdoor swimming facilities like Oakton has come and gone; and it’s not likely to return anytime soon, especially in places where outdoor swimming is confined to three months a year.

Oakton Pool has been a white elephant for at least the past five years, and probably longer.  That’s why we’ve been criticizing the Park District Board and Staff for letting Oakton manage the District rather than vice versa – letting it limp along under a “do not resuscitate” order because they didn’t have the guts to stop the bleeding and close a facility that was taking money away from other facilities.  It’s nice to hear Director Ochromowicz voice some of those same concerns in pushing for a proactive decision.

But as Yogi once said: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.”  And as Ochromowicz also realizes, “[t]he closing of this pool will be unpopular to some” – which means that June 17 may be an interesting evening over at the Maine Leisure Center. 

That “some” to which Ochromowicz refers includes folks who tend to talk about how “important” Oakton Pool is, or how it provides a unique swimming opportunity, or how it hosted the Olympic trials decades ago, or how it is the “neighborhood” pool for that part of town.  We suspect a number of them haven’t even so much as dipped a toe into Oakton Pool in years but are happy to indulge their whims and nostalgia so long as somebody else pays most of the freight.

And then there are those relatively few Oakton swimming die-hards for whom the declining attendance figures provide the benefit of turning that facility into somewhat of a private club – but at no extra charge to them.  Many of them lament that the other pools are “too crowded” – but without the “Nobody goes there anymore” prelude that created another of the more famous Yogi-isms.

What we don’t hear from any of them, however, is their willingness to sign on to pay a premium fee per Oakton visit and to guaranty enough visits to bridge the $5+ per visit expense “gap” between Oakton and the other pools.  That’s because “money talks and b.s. walks,” a non-Yogi saying that seems especially true for the active users of taxpayer-subsidized government services and facilities who seem to pride themselves on getting more out of the government than they pay in.
So when Ochromowicz says that Oakton Pool “is draining tax dollars that could be put to better use,” he is speaking words that we wish his counterparts heading the other local governmental bodies would learn to pronounce.  

But first he has to teach them to his own Park Board.

5 comments so far

Close down part of the Lucinda River? How dare you!

Park Ridge has too much outdoor water for a community of it’s size?

Well oviously they didn’t think that in 1969 when Oakton first opened and probably thought we didn’t have enough back then.

Also what does Mr. O. mean by the era of outdoor swimming is long gone?

May sound like a dumb question but reguardless of what’s going on, it sounds like an odd statement.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  “The era of outdoor swimming facilities like Oakton has come and gone” is our comment, not an observation of Mr. Ochromowicz.

Watchdog…’s about time the Park District had the spine to make the decision to close that pool. Can’t wait to see how the vote goes next week!

“The Journal story reports that last year the District’s five pools (including the indoor “lap” pool at the Community Center which was built both too short and too narrow to even host a swim meet) lost more than $135,000, with Oakton alone accounting for $95,000 of that unhappy total”.

What about the other 40K? You go on and on about self supporting etc. etc……non essential…etc..etc. But by your own information even if they wack Oakton the other pools are still 40K in the red.

anon on 06.09.10 6:24 pm:

Re your reference to our 04.09.10 post “Another Year Too Many For Oakton Pool,” of course we would prefer if the Park District lost no money at all on its pools, and we hope the new Director will come up with ways to work toward that goal – assuming that the Park Board views that as a goal (and, if not, we’ll add that to our other policy differences with the Park Board). 

But Oakton clearly is the albatross of the pool system, and since the Park District has proved over the past several years that it can’t manage Oakton any better than it has been doing, we think it’s time for the Park District to put that $95K to better use than pouring it down Oakton Pool’s drain.