Mel Shockley, commander of the Mark Anthony Evans Lawton American Legion Post 62 in Craig, said he’s faced with a difficult decision.
“I’m just telling you how I feel,” Shockley said. “I don’t want to see it happen, I hope it does not happen, and our members don’t want it to happen.
“But, I have a fiduciary duty to the American Legion post and its members to see to it that we don’t get in a financial jam.”
The jam, in this case, is the indoor pool facility at the post. Shockley estimates the American Legion loses $10,000 a year operating its pool. He is seeking contributions from the community to keep it open.
“If we do have to shut it down, then we’re literally going to shut it down,” Shockley said. “We’re going to drain it, sell off the equipment and fill it in.”
The pool costs roughly $15,000 per year to operate, he said. It generates between $4,500 and $5,000 per year in revenue.
“So as you can see, we’re losing a lot of money,” he said. “The American Legion is in fine shape financially, but if we continue to operate the pool, we won’t be.”
The American Legion’s mission is to help veterans and their families, and address the needs of the community, Shockley said.
“First and foremost are veterans and their families,” the post commander said. “And then right behind that are the needs of the citizens of the community, starting with the children and seniors, and then everybody else.”
The pool fits into the American Legion’s mission, due to its senior swimming programs, Shockley said.
“We have five swimming programs a week,” he said. “The National Arthritis Foundation has a swim class on Mondays and Wednesdays, and on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, we have senior swimnastics.”
Shockley said the seniors are paying their fair share in admission fees. Annual swimming passes for people ages 65 and older are $175. Swimmers younger than age 65 pay $200 per year.
Shockley doesn’t see much room for fee increases.
“Most of the people who come to these swimming classes are seniors who are on social security and fixed incomes,” he said. “They don’t have money.”
The pool provides an important service to those swimmers, Shockley said.
“It helps so much with seniors who have arthritis and hip surgeries,” he said. “It’s the only place they can go to get the aerobic type exercises they need to heal and get going day after day.
“Most of the people who use our facility feel so much better after using it.”
The building the American Legion is housed in was built in 1979, Shockley said. It was intended to be a recreation center for construction crews working in the area.
The facility was later sold to Moffat County. The county operated the pool for a number of years, but chose to shut it down, Shockley said.
“Nobody makes money on a swimming pool,” he said. “The city loses over $100,000 a year on the one they have at the park. That’s the reason the county closed this building. They couldn’t afford to operate it anymore.”
The American Legion leased the building in 2005. The lease terms included a phased-in utilities sharing agreement with the county.
“The first year, they paid all the utility bills,” Shockley said of the county. “The second year, they paid 75 percent and we paid 25 percent. The third year, the bills were 50/50. The fourth year it was 75 (percent) our way, 25 (percent) their way.”
Last year, the American Legion purchased the building, Shockley said. Now, the post assumes all utility costs.
Shockley said utility bills for last month were $1,662 for gas, $864 for electricity and $538 for water.
“Eighty percent of all of that is pool operation,” he said. “That’s just … that’s horrendous.”
Shockley said he hopes people will come forward with assistance to keep the pool open.
“We’re trying to get some help from the citizens of the community and the county, and hopefully some businesses — the power plants, the mines,” he said. “Hopefully somebody will kick in. If we can get pledges of $15,000, we’ll set it aside in a fund to be used for the utilities and we’ll keep the pool open.”
The American Legion’s pool is the second indoor swimming facility in the community that faces uncertainty this year.
The 30-year-old pool at Moffat County High School has maintenance issues and the school board has assembled a task force to look into options to prolong the pool’s lifespan.
Shockley said he’s aware of the district’s issues.
“I have been following that,” Shcokley said of the MCHS pool. “They’ve got some structural problems with their pool, whereas ours — even though it’s old — it’s not in bad shape.”
Shockley said he replaced the American Legion pool’s boiler last year. The pool’s liner might be an issue in two or three years.
“But that’s down the road,” he said.
Shockley said anyone who is interested in making a tax-deductible contribution should contact the American Legion at 824-3625.
The American Legion will accept donations through late February or early March.
“In the event that we do not receive enough funding, all donations will be returned at your request,” Shockley said.
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