A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Florence Aquatic Center re-opened after shutdown scare enjoying busy summer; future remains in doubt

By Alexia Dolan
NKyTribune intern

The Florence Aquatic Center (FAC) opened its doors for the first time in three years a little over a month ago, after a controversy with the City of Florence administration which considered shutting it down permanently.

Some residents complained about a lack of communication from city officials. Some city officials wanted to see the facility demolished and the space turned into something that could be used year-round.

“They would try to shut us down at the meetings and did not care what the people were saying,” said NKY Swims Vice President, Lesley Chambers. “It took many tries for them to stop and consider what we were saying.”

Florence Aquatic Center. (Facebook photo)

NKY Swims, founded by Jenna Kemper, Lesley Chambers, Brian Kinross, and Chris
Kemper, was created in 2021. Their goal is to help assist local children and families who are interested in swimming lessons but cannot afford it. The organization accepts donations and is eligible to apply for grants to provide swim lessons and memberships for those in need.

“The one good thing that came out of this was our nonprofit beginning as a grassroots campaign last summer,” said Jenna Kemper, NKY Swims President. “We see value in being tax-exempt because the idea is to keep it socio-economically fair to all local families.”

In Boone County, not a single high school has a pool and there is no other public pool.

Kemper says that their mission is to bridge this gap by helping the local children and then hopefully expand to other regions around the state, for all those in need of aquatic assistance during the summer.

The Florence Aquatic Center is also the homebase for the Florence Hammerhead Swim Team which is affiliated with the Northern Kentucky Swim League, and regional swim meets are often held there. In addition, a number of organizations host events there.

The facility includes a lazy river, competition pool, zero depth pool, two spray grounds, a spiral and a speed slide sunbathing areas, shelters, funbrellas, a bathhouse, and concessions.

“A pool has about a 30-mile radius for people that should be coming to it on a daily basis, yet there are many people who live in Florence who didn’t know there was an aquatic center,” Chambers said. “The facility previously charged a higher rate for non-residents and they’ve eliminated that on the daily admission and now everyone pays the same price.”

Councilmember Kelly Huff was one of two Florence administration members to vote in favor of demolishing the pool and transforming the area into a possible sprinkler park with other enhancements.

After a 4-2 majority voted to keep the pool open this season, its supporters are hopeful the momentum of this year will keep the FAC afloat.

When asked about current updates, Councilmember Huff said his opinion may not play a role, but to remind the public that this decision cannot be made until after the summer.

“If I don’t win my election, I may not be on council to vote on it,” Councilmember Huff said. “We are keeping it open for one more season and will re-evaluate at the end of the year to see if we are losing more money than we are making.”

Huff complained of terrific harrassment from an angry public.

Julie Aubuchon Metzger, Florence’s current Vice-Mayor who is running for Mayor in the next election, said she has also experienced harrassment, but that there are many more reasonable residents.

“There’s a handful of noisy people who have brought the issue forward, but there have been a lot of civil folks who understand we aren’t in the pool business,” Metzger said. “I think the public might only be hearing from the people who think we should be in the pool business, but there’s always two sides to every story.”

Chambers and the NKY Swims team brought a heightened awareness to this issue.

Through social media and networking, they were able to call attention to a cause they felt was necessary to fight.

“Jenna, Brian and I were leaders in this situation, but we couldn’t have done it without the voices of the people who live in the city, the petitions that were signed, and everyone joining our Facebook, Save the Florence Aquatic Center,” Chambers said.

Metzger voted in favor of the pool remaining open for another season but says the future is dependent on monetary matters as well. After final expenses are determined, the board will make a presentation to council in November or December as it starts budgeting for the following year, which includes the management company drafting contracts in February.

“It’s been a successful pool season, but I think the weather is a big factor because it’s hot and sunny, which makes people want to go to the pool,” Vice-Mayor Metzger said. “I’m always optimistic about everything with the pool and I’ll probably continue to be that way, but the city can’t make a decision the same day the pool closes, especially without seeing the final numbers and potential outstanding bills.”

The Vice-Mayor assures residents that the current state of the pool is looking great. She says membership is up and attendance is good, but that all could change depending upon how the weather pans out for the rest of the season.

“We did a survey and about half as many people wanted the pool that didn’t want the pool, but the majority of people didn’t respond,” Metzger said.

Chambers, who is also running in her first city council race this year, says the survey was misleading.

“They created a false narrative on the amount of money that the pool lost and the surveys were biased the way they were worded, because it was a Boone County Park’s survey and not a City of Florence survey,” Chambers said.

Councilmember Huff said the reasoning behind voting in favor of closing the FAC, all comes down to the potential of the aging pool costing the city of Florence more money than it is worth. He also said that Florence is considering possible adjustments in order to make the pool financially feasible.

Florence Hammerheads first home meet. (Facebook photo)

“The administration is doing as much as it can to try and accommodate that to keep the pool open,” Councilmember Huff said. “I don’t have anything against pools, I think they’re fine. It just costs a lot of money and if you can bridge that gap, then it makes it easier to justify keeping it.”

Chambers said the council budgeted an amount of $300,000 a year to run the pool. Of that $175,000 goes to operating the pool and the rest of it was swept into a fund that currently has $3 million in it.

“It is a lot of money for a pool, but when the city is sitting on $80 million, I think that’s okay,” Chambers said. “We’re on the right track to bring down that number, even with the lifeguards having to be paid more now, due to COVID and pinnacles increasing in price, but we’re still on track to have a really successful year.”

NKY Swims says that Florence is supposed to have a Parks and Recreation Board, but they currently don’t have one. They also learned other facilities throughout the state of Kentucky do not outsource their management. The FAC uses SwimSafe, but Chambers says the city could save 30% on their costs if they hire their own employees directly.

“Other facilities have an aquatics manager that their city hires to make sure swim lessons are being marketed,” Chambers said. “Our city accountant, Linda Chapman, who’s great with numbers and for taking on this job that’s not within her job description.”

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