Hope floats

Conrad Schwarze loves his hour-long, morning swims at the YMCA of Kauai.

From the water, to the scenery, to the people, it all makes for a terrific start to his days.

“It’s beautiful,” said the Wailua man and four-year member of the nonprofit organization.

The $5 million, Olympic-sized swimming pool opened five years ago. Since, it’s been a staple for recreational and competitive swimming. It’s been a place where lifeguards are trained, where youth have taken their first lessons and where physical therapy happens too.

Eric Gregory of Wailua Homesteads visits once a week for therapy as he recovers from a back operation. He can’t imagine a better place than the pristine, outdoor pool to help him regain strength and flexibility.

“It’s just wonderful. Super clean, well-maintained, great lifeguards. They do a really good job here,” Gregory said.

But the pool is in trouble. Financial trouble.

Thomas Tannery, general director of the YMCA of Kauai, said the organization needs to raise $100,000 by year’s end to keep the pool open for 2014.

“If we raise $50,000 only, that’s five months we can continue on,” he said.

If not, the YMCA could close the pool.

“The Y is not going to close,” he said. “The pool could close. We would have to drain the pool if we don’t raise the funds.”

“If it was gone, it would be an enormous loss for the island,” he added.

Tannery said since the pool opened, its operated at a loss. Each year, the YMCA raises around $200,000 through fundraisers, grants and donations to make up what membership fees don’t cover.

“It doesn’t pay for itself,” Tannery said. “It has to be subsidized. We have to raise our own funds to keep going. We are always raising funds.”

“Every year we’re open is another good year,” he said.

This year, times are tougher.

The estimated 325 family memberships at $75 a month doesn’t come close to covering the annual $600,000 budget.

Tannery said they couldn’t put on enough fundraisers to raise the necessary funds, so they’re doing what must be done: Asking the community to donate. Again.

“We need money,” he said.

Kilauea resident Donna Schulze, who served on the YMCA of Kauai board for three decades, said she would be heart-broken if the pool closed.

She was “too afraid to even think about it.”

“It’s too much to even talk about,” she said. “We’d never get it back again.”

Schulze said she has faith the community will rise to the occasion and rally around the YMCA and its pool.

“I’m sure they’re going to help us out,” she said.

The cost of a pool

The YMCA raised around $5 million to build the pool that opened five years ago.

Funds came from county, state and federal levels. United Way, businesses, and even individuals pitched in.

“It was a miracle,” Tannery said.

“The pool is a jewel,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful pool I ever swam in, in my life.”

But an expensive one, he admits.

“Everything goes to feed the pool,” Tannery said. “The pool has this insatiable appetite. It’s like that kid that’s eating you out of house and home. It’s a monster. It’s a wonderful monster, but it’s a monster.”

The electric bill runs over $8,000 a month. Chemical total another $8,000. The monthly water bill is around $3,000.

“It’s $20,000 whether anyone is in there or not,” Tannery said.

“The costs are so extreme, you need help to be able to keep them going,” Tannery said.

YMCA conducted studies before beginning the pool project. Results of those studies indicated there would be more than 500 family memberships. Numbers have fallen well short of those projections.

“Realities are often different than predictions and research,” he said.

Why the ‘Y’ matters

The YMCA sits on four acres at 4477 Nuhou St., just off Kaumualii Highway. Besides the main pool, it offers exercise equipment and a small children’s pool.

Future plans call for another $10 million to complete a full-sized gym, among other things.

The pool still needs a bulkhead to create sections, a timing system and bleachers, which would run another $100,000.

A solar system to power the place is in the beginning stages — and is expected to cost another $1 million.

Right now, the pool is the key to the operations. It’s what draws in most members. It’s the centerpiece.

YMCAs, he said, are known for swimming and building strong families and community.

“We live on an island. Everybody should know how to swim,” Tannery said.

Dan Britzmann, president of Swim Kauai Aquatics, said they’ve been training at the YMCA pool since 2008.

There are currently around 80 kids on the team — 5 year olds to national level swimmers —  and that number will rise to more than 100 by December.

“The pool is really important to us,” he said. “It’s basically our life blood.”

The YMCA pool has made a “huge difference” in swimming on Kauai, Britzmann said.

“If there’s a possibility of any kind of pool closure, especially one that’s basically new, it shrinks everything from the bottom up to the top,” he said.

Sharon Peck, coach for Special Olympics swimming and a swim mom, said the YMCA has been amazing for the community, and she would hate to see the pool close.

“They have been a great supporter and partner of Special Olympics,” she said.

Meynard Enriquez, a physical therapist with Hawaii Sports and Balance Center, uses the YMCA pool a few times a week to work with patients.

Some are recovering from injuries or surgeries. Others trying to develop or maintain physical condition.

“The water is a great place to rehab from those kinds of injuries,” he said. “It allows them to do all kinds of things they can’t normally do on land.”

The pool, he said, is “awesome”

“Not too many places are equipped to handle patient populations that have disabilities,” he said.

A matter of money

Tannery said if 100 people donated $1,000 each, that would solve the current budget crisis. But long term, that’s not the answer.

“That’s a Band-Aid,” he said.

The goal is to make the pool self-sustainable so fundraising isn’t necessary each year. More members would help. Raising fees is an option, but they want to keep costs down.

Word has been spreading that the pool will close, but he said that’s not true.

“That’s the last thing we ever, ever, ever want to do is close down this pool,” he said. “Our goal has always been and is to keep the pool open.”

The pool, Tannery said, isn’t just about swimming. It’s about the health and well-being of the community. It’s about family and unity.

“You see how it touches them,” he said.

The YMCA runs on what Tannery called a shoestring budget. It has a volunteer board and a small army of volunteers who help with daily operations.

“It’s part of the miracle,” Tannery said.

Tannery is the only full-time paid staffer and oversees about 20 part-time staffers, most of them lifeguards.

The YMCA pool is where people come to feel safer in the water, and become stronger, too. It’s where they learn and sharpen their swimming skills.

“We’re like the aquatic safety net,” he said.

That net, he fears, could be lost.

“We need to save the pool for this community,” he said. “For me, I’ll do anything I can to keep it going. I know what it means. I know how much it would be missed if it was gone.”

• Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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