BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – One is an aberration.
Three is a concern.
Four is an epidemic.
Not sure exactly how alarming it is, or should be. Perhaps it’s just a reflection of the current participation in other areas of physical activity, or the direction in which our society is headed.
Over the past four years, no less than four Lebanon County swim clubs – Valley Beach, Northeast, Iona and Richland Community Pool – have closed their doors due to financial concerns. And although none was directly connected to a municipality and each set of circumstance was different, there are definitely some common denominators that have factored into their closings.
Things like people constructing personal pools at home, the need for more two-income families, kids having more things to do, global warming, increased summer travel, the high costs of operation and maintenance and those who simply aren’t enjoying the great outdoors as much.
But in the wake of the closings, what has been left behind, are eye-sores at the very least, and potential safety hazards at the very most. And one would have to focus very hard to a imagine a future in which any of these facilities might re-open.
“I think it’s because moms are working more,” said Linda Smith, the former president of Valley Beach’s board of directors. “Kids are in daycare. I think they attend more summer camps. They go on more vacations. Times are changing. Times have changed.”
Mike Blatt, a former representative of the Iona Swim Club, Greg Pommel, the past president of the Northeast Swim Club and Penny Hartman, the one-time manager of the Richland Community Pool, could not be reached for comment for this piece.
At Valley Beach, which is located just off Route 72 south of Lebanon in West Cornwall Township, the writing may have been on the wall first.
It’s been four summers since the swim club closed on Labor Day, 2011, after 54 years of operation. Valley Beach did everything imaginable to survive, including selling its land to Threemax Realty six years prior, in an attempt to raise funds.
“We just kept dwindling and dwindling and dwindling, until we couldn’t stay afloat,” said Smith. “We stayed open for another six years. But our membership didn’t grow and we ran out of money. We needed about 200 to 225 members, with our budget, to break even. We tried. We did fund-raising. We did brainstorming. But we couldn’t do it. When they left, a lot of our members went to Iona.”
Exactly how the land will be utilized in the future remains unknown, but Smith is sure it will never be inhabited by a swim club named ‘Valley Beach’ again.
“No, I don’t think it’ll ever re-open, not under the ‘Valley Beach’ name,” continued Smith. “It’s very sad. I grew up there. My father was the manager when I was child. My children grew up there. We questioned, ‘Why aren’t people coming?’ I guess more people have pools in their backyards. We have a lot more working mothers. But it’s a very nice property.”
Quite without warning, the Richland Community Pool closed – or simply didn’t open – this past May, the way it had for the past 50 Memorial Days. The specific reasons for its closing remain a mystery, while it also raised another big concern – who exactly owns the property off of Linden Avenue, in the eastern Lebanon County borough.
“To those who know me know that my decision to take the summer off from managing the pool after 15 years has totally broken my spirit and my heart!!!!,” Hartman wrote. “However, I can not tolerate all the complaints and evilness surrounding the townspeople and the continuing threats about the water usage and where the water comes from, and now possibly charging the pool for the water because the cost of our water bills went up!!!! Complaints of water pressure, when the pool is not even hooked up yet. Really ????? Dust and noise coming in your windows from the pool again really ?????
“When will the community come together to make it better, instead of complaining about things and putting the small businesses out of work?” she continued. “Remember all the good times you had growing up at that pool, and now that you’re older ( and you haven’t been there since I have been managing it ), because I know who came and supported it and I know who didn’t, because I was there everyday and I spoke with every person that walked through that door, you should still be supporting the pool, not tearing it apart like everything else in this town. This has had to be one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make, but I just need a break, so I am sorry if nobody likes my decision ( I don’t either ), but I need to think about my sanity and my family first.”
Borough residents who were part of the Richland Community Swim Pool Association opened the facility in 1961. It had operated over the past 53 years with the help of both paid employees and volunteers.
Back on August 6th of 2014, the following is what Hartman posted on her facebook page:
“Like the Richland pool doesn’t have enough problems trying to stay around and provide something for the community to do, we have a council member that just insists on running his mouth trying to shut the pool down,” she wrote. “Doesn’t matter that this same person used to jump the fence and swim for free in his younger years, doesn’t matter that I know for a fact he hasn’t supported the pool ( only complaints ) in the last 20 years. Yep, what a way to be a council member, by trying to destroy the only thing left in the town for the people to do. Yep, you are surely out for the people of Richland, so glad I am not one of your ” friends” to say “yep yep and nod the head in agreement ” you are an idiot and do not not deserve to be on a council seat, because you are trying to destroy the only thing left in the town for people to enjoy Okay, my vent over. Sorry I was volunteering my daily 24/7 time at the pool so I couldn’t be at the meeting, but I was told by quite a few people that do care about the pool, what was said at the meeting.”
Northeast Swim Club, which is located at 628 North 11th Avenue in the city, last served its members over the summer of 2012. At the time of its closing, Northeast’s membership was hovering around 100, and it was estimated that it needed about 160-170 to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the pool, some of which were considered to be major repairs.
That club opened in 1972, but experienced low membership rates for the ten years prior to its closing. At the time, a family membership was priced at $250, and an individual membership cost $150.
This summer of 2015 marks the second in-a-row that Iona Swim Club has not opened. Situated on land at 1301 Founderwhite Road in South Lebanon, the pool experienced costly underground structural damage during the 2014 off-season, that apparently weren’t covered by insurance.
As of this posting, the club’s bond holders had yet to be refunded their membership fees.
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