By James Smith
One of Santa Clarita’s most popular attractions is its $ 9 million aquatic center built in 2003. The facility was created because of the growing popularity of competitive swim and city residents urging council members to create a facility where their recreation needs could be met locally.
What sets Santa Clarita aquatics department apart from the rest of the aquatics divisions in Southern California is its 50-meter Olympic competition pool, 1-meter and 3-meter dive pools and a zero-depth entry family pool. One of the reasons the city decided to invest in a state-of-the-art aquatic center was so it can accommodate the swimming clubs around the valley. Swim meets and practices can now be held in town instead of traveling. This also helped out with the congestion of other local pools being used.
“The aquatics center can see upwards of 1,000 people a day during the summer months,” said Lance O’Keefe, aquatics supervisor of Santa Clarita. With operation hours seven days a week, the facility is used day in and day out during the peak season. The aquatic center provides an excellent alternative to Hurricane Harbor, the water park in Santa Clarita that is owned by Six Flags. At a price tag of $33 for a child’s ticket compared to $3 for one at the aquatic center it makes economic sense to use the city facilities instead of going to a theme park.
“When my two boys are out of school we are always looking for something to do during the summer months,” said Amanda Dejains, a patron who uses the aquatics center frequently during the summertime. “What makes the aquatics center so appealing is that it is located in town not too far from our house, the parking is free and you are inside having fun within five minutes. Plus, it provides a good outlet for my children to play with other kids from school.”
Santa Clarita was the first municipality in Southern California to have a grand aquatics center. The city had to create an additional 130 positions to staff the center. Total operation cost for the aquatics division is $1 million per year, but the city generates only $850,000 per year with rentals and admission fees. The remaining $150,000 comes from a general fund that is allocated to parks and recreation, which covers the aquatic center. The city accepts a deficit on operation costs for the aquatic center because it serves an important role for improving the quality of life for the residents of Santa Clarita. This also has a positive effect on the economic development for businesses in the community.
“When swimming events happen at the aquatic center, lots of teams are coming from out of town and they are staying at local hotels and eating at local restaurants which play a direct hand with benefit the local economy,” said O’Keefe.
Other park and recreation departments generate little or no money from their programs because they don’t attract as many users, their facilities don’t host events year-round and they are rarely rented out. The aquatics center rents out its facility for $11,500 for a 3-day competitive swim meet. This come at a premium price because they are one of the only facilities in Southern California that has an Olympic size timing pool.
The motion picture industry also rents out the aquatics center because of the incentives the city gives for shooting in Santa Clarita. The aquatic center is an ideal location for a water scene because the facility is outside and film crews have enough space to maneuver and set up lights without coming too close to the pool. Filming accounts to 5 percent of the revenue generated at the aquatic center and with TV shows like The Biggest Loser planning on shooting here in the future, this will increase the profit margin for the aquatic center.
Other aquatic programs also use the center’s pools for year-round activities. Underwater hockey (a sport where two teams maneuver a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool) and water polo use the pool when competition swim season is over. Recreational lap swim is open to the public all year long. Lessons are also offered for programs like scuba diving, stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, which allow beginners to learn these skills in a controlled environment.
There are also annual special events like the Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest, Splash and Dash Easter Egg Hunt and Polar Bear Swim.
During the summer time the city has a junior lifeguard program that teaches kids how to be first responders in the event of a drowning and is a steppingstone to its annual lifeguard tryouts. Teens 16 and older have the opportunity to try out for a summer job with wages at $12 – $21 a hour.
“My first full-time job was when I started working as a lifeguard for the city and now it has evolved into a career,” said O’Keefe. “Many of my now full-time staff started out as junior guards and have stuck with it because of how great of an employer the city is.”
The city also looks for ways the aquatic center can save on operational costs. Prior to the current drought, the city installed solar blankets that cover the pools during the evening to help prevent water from evaporating, In addition to preventing heat from escaping this also helps to lower the utility bill. The city has also retrofitted a majority of lights at the aquatic center with LED bulbs and smart timers to shut off after a specified length of time. Making this investment has yielded the city with a 20 percent savings on its utility bills.
“Generating positive economic impact and increasing the quality of living is always a priority for a municipality” said O’Keefe. This is why other cities look at the Santa Clarita Aquatic Center and allocate bigger budgets to their park and recreation programs in hopes of replicating the same benefit for their residents.