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New government requirements as part of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act are forcing owners of many public swimming pools across Indiana — including those in Adams County — to find money for upgrades.
The new standards require that public pools nationwide establish one or two accessible points of entry on or before a May 21 deadline. Those improvements can include a pool lift or sloped points of entry or both, depending on the pool’s size.
Adams County-Decatur Parks and Rec Department employee Chris Krull, who oversees operations at the Decatur municipal swimming pool, said that because of the city pool's size, a minimum of two handicapped-accessible points of entry eventually must be added to the Decatur site. Krull said the new ADA guidelines will be "a big topic for discussion" at an upcoming park board meeting scheduled for May 14.
"We will do everything we can to be (ADA) compliant," said Krull. "We try to spend our money wisely every year when we rehab the pool, but we are potentially talking some serious changes. And we need to look not only at the pool, but at all of our (parks) facilities to ensure that restrooms and other facilities are handicapped accessible."
Parks and Rec Superintendent Steve Krull said ADA compliance at the Decatur municipal swimming pool, as well as the pool at Bellmont High School, will require important decisions on the part of the community as a whole.
"This is a quality of life issue," he said. "Decatur needs to provide for the quality of life for all of its residents. We're talking some serious money (for the necessary upgrades) but it's something the community has to get serious about.
"If we're going to maintain our swimming pools, we have to go by the guidelines. We have to be willing to pay the price. It's going to be difficult, but it's something we have to do and should do," Krull said.
The parks and rec manager said handicapped pool lifts can run upwards of $6,000 each. At least one will be required at the Decatur pool, and another would be necessary at the Bellmont site.
"It's time for some serious discussions with the school about where we're going to take that pool and who's going to do what," Krull said. North Adams Community Schools currently pays for upkeep and equipment at the Bellmont pool, while parks and rec employees provide daily maintenance and other services necessary to keep the BHS pool open to the public.
North Adams Superintendent Dr. Wylie Sirk said the Bellmont swimming pool currently has neither a handicapped lift nor an ADA-approved ramp, "and we don't have the money to make those changes today."
Sirk said the future of the BHS pool "has been a big part of the picture in recent meetings of the school district's facilities committee" and will continue to be included in future planning sessions.
Bringing the local swimming pools into full ADA compliance "is going to be a long process," Steve Krull predicted. "But it's time to get started. This is an important community project."
The Decatur swimming pool is tentatively scheduled to open for the season on June 2.
Mark Wynn, who represents Berne City Council on the Berne Pool Board, said the government's regulations have changed continually since the ADA compliance requirement was first announced.
"A year ago you could buy a portable lift (to assist handicapped pool users), then it was changed to say that portable lifts need to have a way to be anchored during use," Wynn said. "This legislation went down so fast that I'm just kind of waiting for the dust to settle."
Wynn said the cost of a lift — including anchoring and installation — could exceed $10,000. And the city of Berne simply doesn't have that kind of money available. "But we are working on (gaining ADA compliance)," he said.
The law doesn’t affect private clubs or pools owned by neighborhood associations that aren’t open to the public. Other pools must comply by May 21.
Some Indiana officials reportedly are hoping they can get an extension for their struggling facilities was pool operators say they are confused about whether a portable lift is sufficient and worry that permanent lifts could pose a danger to curious children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.