Fairfield’s swimming pool to be managed by private company: How that will save money

The city of Fairfield will have SwimSafe manage its aquatic center for at least the 2021 season. The city agreed to a three-year contract but can opt-out after the first year. GREG LYNCH/FILE
The city of Fairfield will have SwimSafe manage its aquatic center for at least the 2021 season. The city agreed to a three-year contract but can opt-out after the first year. GREG LYNCH/FILE

The city of Fairfield will have a private company manage its pool for at least the 2021 season, but the city still has the final say in its operations.

Fairfield City Council approved a three-year contract with SwimSafe Pool Management, which has an opt-out clause after the first year, this week. It will cost the city $121,500 in the first year. The second and third years of the contract are valued at $121,000 each. There will be about a projected $50,000 savings for the city, but Fairfield Parks and Recreation Director Tiphanie Howard “the focus wasn’t about saving money.”

“We started looking into this prior to the COVID pandemic,” Howard said. “While we’re really good at what we do, we really considered going into a partnership with an organization that does this day in and day out.”

Fairfield has run its aquatics center, which is a seasonal operation, since 1997, and one of the challenges is the shrinking labor pool, Howard said.

“The market for young adults is very competitive right now,” she said.

SwimSafe President Karl Weidner said in a letter to the city that his company manages the most municipal swimming pools in the metro Cincinnati and Dayton areas so “we fully understand the requirements to operate a safe, clean and fully staffed municipal pool facility.”

“We focus on recruiting employees from your city and close proximity so there is familiarity with the facility and patrons, and good continuity of staff,” he said.

Four proposals were received in November, and the staff recommended SwimSafe “due to several key indicating factors,” according to a staff report. Those areas include “historically positive partnerships with similar municipalities,” it’s local and family-owned and has a “dedicated staff specific to safety and human resource management and familiarity with municipal expectations.”

Fairfield shut down its aquatics center on Augusta Boulevard for the 2020 season due to the state’s restrictions around curbing the novel coronavirus pandemic. The restrictions proved to be too costly for the city to operate the pool while implementing the required safeguards.

Howard said if similar restrictions are ordered in 2021, a private company like SwimSafe could be better suited to navigate the restrictions and a better shot of keeping the pool open if permitted by the state.

Fairfield has operated the pool since its opening in 1997, and each season a pool manager and 30-35 lifeguards are hired and trained in-house. SwimSafe will provide all necessary labor, materials, supervision, administration, financing, insurance, and other services to maintain and operate the pool, with the exception of admissions and concessions, according to the staff report.

Concessions and admissions will remain a city responsibility, Howard said.

“That’s where we really drew the line was front-line customer service, we still wanted to have that control and give that Fairfield flair,” Howard said.

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