Henry Moses Aquatic Center is making big changes this year after earlier swim sessions and closures due to weather and low attendance made some visitors take to social media.
Instead of two open swim sessions, the aquatic center will have a third session from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The third session will be going while the lap pool is closed for swim lessons.
The pool will have eight total hours of open swim, with two total hours of scheduled park cleaning and lifeguard training.
Last year, the park had six hours of open swim, with two hours of cleaning, except for Friday open swim nights. This is the first time since 2004 the pool has had a third open swim session, Recreation Coordinator Brandi Burke said.
The aquatic center will also no longer turn patrons away due to low attendance or inclement weather, unless the weather poses a safety hazard as it did with two smoky days last summer. Since the pool is heated, it will be up to customers as to if it’s too cold outside for them.
Recreation and Neighborhoods Director Maryjane Van Cleave said the low attendance closures was a historical practice from the center’s opening. Staff might close the lap pool if the attendance is quite low, so employees can safely monitor the park, but will keep other areas open.
These changes are all to be included in the 2019 “Let’s Go Renton!” recreation guide, which for the first time combines the “Golden Opportunities” senior guide with the “What’s Happening” general activities guide.
Staff also used results from a survey completed in January 2019 to help them decide what improvements to look for.
The survey had 854 comments, some of which were from the same people, and a small portion of which wrote “n/a” as their comment.
In the survey, which the Renton Reporter received from city staff, about 50 comments were related to the schedule hours or wanting later swim times for working parents.
The survey showed 26 comments related to early closures and weather-related closures and being turned away.
Other comments were related to online ticket purchases, long lines, swim lessons, cleanliness, food options and age of staff.
Van Cleave said they are also actively looking at some online ticket purchasing options now that they’ve switched to a new registration software, Perfect Mind. The previous software had been used for 20 years.
Advocating for working families
Last year, Shannon Richards heard too late about a change in the Henry Moses Aquatic Center swim schedule, when they bumped the evening swim from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., to 3 to 6 p.m.
Her and her son, Lorenzo, visited the park five nights a week in 2017. They were season pass holders for six years. Richard’s son has Down syndrome and Henry Moses Aquatic Center is a place she said he feels safe and the staff know him.
But with the earlier closing schedule in 2018, Richards said she didn’t have time as a working parent to get him to the pool with any more than a half hour to spare.
She went to council on June 18, 2018 to express how she felt the closure impacted working families.
“To some it might sound trivial, but to my family and friends it’s a very big deal which will result in not even being able to go to Henry Moses Aquatic Center,” Richards said at that June meeting.
Richards emailed council to tell them how happy she was with the new third session, even though she still liked the 2017 schedule. She said it was a “great compromise.”
Van Cleave said the 2018 early schedule was to accommodate pool cleaning, staff breaks and earlier swim lessons.
“We didn’t expect, anticipate or ever have any desire to negatively impact working families and parents,” Van Cleave said. “Because we are flexible, (Burke) went back to the drawing board came back with this (new schedule.)”
She said the pool tries to do a lot in a short amount of time. The aquatic center is the only hybrid pool in the area that includes those water park features and community pool needs.
Balancing patron needs
As a city, Van Cleave said they are trying to shift towards more two-way engagement. For the aquatic center, much discussion happens on social media and through closed groups on platforms like Facebook that are hard for staff to track or respond to.
One of the issues with trying to track drop-in customers to fill out the survey is they don’t have their email addresses, Van Cleave said.
The survey was emailed to the 1,546 season-pass holders or registered swim lesson customers from last summer, who visited a total of 10,526 times.
But that missed the 31,963 drop-in customer visits, 23,160 of those visits were from residents. Some of these are likely repeat patrons.
“I think sometimes we want people to know we’re listening, it’s just how do we show that in a way that’s trackable” Van Cleave said.
They can never please everybody, Burke said. The best they can do is offer solid programs that people need, including swim lessons that make Renton safe, open swim that is on a patron’s own terms and accept they aren’t a water park: They are a community resource with water park features.
Employees are often from Renton, and there’s a communal factor you wouldn’t get at a Wild Waves, Van Cleave said.
Burke said she knows they will be getting solid feedback from both swim lessons and open swim now going on at the same time.
The aquatics program is also made up of Kennydale Beach and Gene Coulon Memorial Park Beach, which Burke also oversees. She said there’s been a drastic increase in beach use and need to prioritize budgetary dollars towards those beaches. They also support a free life jacket program for all three locations that any patron can use.
There’s roughly 100 lifeguards a season, and 25 are at the beaches. The others work at Henry Moses Aquatic Center. Renton is also one of the few cities still monitoring its beaches in the region, along with Seattle and Bellevue.
Summer programs open for registration April 17 at rentonwa.gov/recreation. Swim lessons open for registration on May 23 to align with the other pools’ swim lessons.
More details on the pool rules, hours and updates will be at rentonwa.gov/HMAC.
This article has been corrected from an original version that erroneously referred to Lorenzo Richards as Joaquin Richards. The print edition will also run a correction next week.