Borough Council Declines to Open Hellertown Pool

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Pool

People play in and lounge around the Hellertown Pool on July 4, 2019. The pool is a beloved amenity for local residents, many of whom recently signed a petition asking borough council to open it this summer in spite of a number of challenges presented by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Citing safety, liability and other concerns, council members unanimously declined to reconsider the issue at their meeting Monday. (FILE PHOTO)

Despite a plea from the pool’s manager to reconsider their earlier decision to shutter the Hellertown Pool this summer due to the coronavirus pandemic, borough council members said Monday they have little choice but to close it given the current circumstances.

Pool manager Ed Kolosky cited a community petition to open the pool that has garnered nearly 500 signatures in making his case before council during a virtual meeting that was held on Zoom.

Kolosky acknowledged that the pool would likely struggle financially this year, since attendance would have to be significantly limited. He recommended that it only be open to season pass holders from Hellertown borough and Lower Saucon Township, although borough council Michael Corriere said he was “leery” of that idea. The pool is a public facility and enforcement of a ban on non-residents could also be problematic, he offered.

Kolosky said the safety measures that would be put in place if the pool were allowed to open would include:

  • Temperature checks for staff and patrons upon arrival at the pool.
  • Required face mask usage, except in the pool and when on one’s own towel.
  • Spacing of towels at least six feet apart and the use of line paint on the grass to create “squares.”
  • Hand sanitizer stations set up at various locations around the pool.
  • A limit on maximum occupancy that would be determined based on the facility’s square footage.

“My biggest concern is safety,” Kolosky told council.

Pool

Two women and a young child cool off at the shallow end of the Hellertown Pool in July 2019. Under proposed COVID-19 pool safety protocols discussed at Hellertown borough council’s meeting Monday, social distancing at the pool would be required. Council ultimately decided not to revisit its May 4 decision to keep the pool closed this summer. (FILE PHOTO)

He said he had contacted the 29 hires for the 2020 season, and that all but one said they would be able to work at the pool this summer if called back.

He also noted that some nearby pools will be open, including the Southern Lehigh pool in Coopersburg, the Quakertown pool and the pool at Steel Club, which is for members only.

Other pools like Nazareth are taking a wait-and-see approach, councilman Matt Marcincin pointed out.

Bethlehem Township officials announced Friday that their popular community pool will remain closed until further notice due to the pandemic.

Kolosky said he fears that if the Hellertown Pool doesn’t open this year it may lose some of its patrons–possibly for good–to other facilities that will be open, or because some families are considering installing in-ground pools in their backyards.

“If we have to shutter it, it is what it is. There’s nothing we can do,” he said. But the borough owes it to the community to try to open the pool, he told council.

All seven council members said they would like to see the pool open, but most had strong reservations about Kolosky’s plan because of what they said were safety and liability concerns.

“Kids are going to want to hang with one another,” said council vice president Phil Weber. He questioned whether Kolosky and his staff would be able to prevent them from doing that.

Kolosky said that if a patron isn’t following the new safety protocols they would be told to leave the pool for the day, but council president Tom Rieger questioned how effective the staff will be when they will in essence be forced to police their own peers’ behavior.

“There’s no way you’re going to stop ten 13-year-olds from congregating,” he predicted.

Borough manager Cathy Hartranft pointed out that under CDC guidelines for swimming pools, lifeguards are not permitted to monitor patrons for compliance with face mask and social distancing rules, because they must be solely focused on monitoring the water.

Councilman Mike McKenna said a concern for him is the possibility that a lifeguard would become ill with COVID-19. In that case, he said, all of the other lifeguards would likely have to be quarantined, and the pool would have to shut down for a lengthy period.

“We all want it open. We all want it safe,” said Mayor David Heintzelman. “Right now it’s a liability issue.”

Hartranft suggested that if the situation with the county’s current “red” status–under which there are severe limitations on public gatherings and residents are required to abide by Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order–were to improve quickly, borough staff will be ready to do whatever is necessary to open the pool, even if it’s only for a month.

Council members agreed that will respond quickly if that occurs, although no one suggested that it is likely to happen in the near future.

As things stand, Northampton County remains under the red phase of the state order until June 4, and once it moves into the yellow phase the limit on public gatherings will only increase to 25 people. Rieger cited Pennsylvania Recreation & Park Society guidance that says pools should not reopen until the area in which they are located is in the third and final phase of the state’s reopening plan–green–and questioned how a pool would be profitable if only 25 people are permitted inside at once, which it also recommended.

“This is the guidance we’re using to make the decisions we make,” he said.

Still, Kolosky said he is something of an eternal optimist, and conceded that however small, the possibility of the pool opening later in the summer gave him a glimmer of hope.

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