Since as far back as the 1980s, surveys of Peters Township residents have indicated widespread support for construction of a municipal swimming pool, with a questionnaire distributed last year reaffirming the interest.
That, of course, took place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m not sure that we live in the same world we lived in a year ago, and I’m not sure that if you sent out that pool survey again now that the number of residents that were in favor of it last year would still be in favor of it,” township council member Frank Kosir Jr. said. “There may be a lot of people who just decide they’re never going to go to a public pool again.”
He and his fellow members, though, agreed during Monday’s council meeting to interview potential consultants for the design of an aquatic center at Rolling Hills Park, on the site of the former Rolling Hills Country Club off East McMurray Road.
The recommendation came from township manager Paul Lauer and prompted a discussion about the present and possible future with regard to high-capacity swimming facilities.
For now, council member Robert Lewis, a longtime proponent for a township pool, said he hasn’t encountered a decrease in demand.
“The people who haven’t had access to the pools this year, they’re almost hostile,” he said.
Councilman Jim Berquist made a similar observation with regard to Valley Brook Country Club in Peters Township.
“Our pool is extremely busy, and our social membership is just about to reach its maximum,” he said, explaining that category attracts mostly swimmers.
Other council members expressed differing opinions.
“I think that the demand for a community pool is definitely changed,” Monica Merrell said, referencing this year’s increased demand for the construction of home pools. “Maybe people are going to use those instead.”
Kosir provided an example.
“I have a friend who’s trying to order one, and he was told that it’s at least a 12-week backlog right now, just to get the pool, let alone actually getting someone out there to dig the hole,” he said.
Gary Stiegel Jr. agreed he and the other council members should conduct interviews pertaining to an aquatic center design.
“But I have to ask if this is really the right time to do that, with the uncertainty arising from the COVID, be it either the revenues,” he said about the possibility of low attendance at a pool, “or just the uncertainty of what social distancing is going to look like next year and the following year.”
Lauer said he has discussed the subject with the potential consultants.
“We had a prebid meeting online, and one of the things I told all the bidders is, I have no idea how the pandemic affects council’s interest in this project,” he explained. “And so that’s something they know up front.”
The township received 12 bids, Lauer said, and staff members have narrowed the field to four firms. He expects by the time of the council interviews, the number will be two or three.
Despite plans for an aquatic center proceeding, he said its construction remains a long-term endeavor.
“I don’t have any idea of what next year looks like in terms of this,” he said about the ramifications of COVID-19. “The thing that I do know is that the pool isn’t an investment for a year. The pool is an investment for 25 or 30 years.”