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Miserable heat is good for business at the Salem Pool

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Water aerobics instructor Amanda Hall directs traffic after telling her students to run from one side of the city pool to the other. The record breaking summer heat has attracted more people than usual to the Salem City Pool this year. The pool closes for the season on Saturday, Aug. 18, two days before the start of school. Photo by Richard Irby
It's 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning, and the temperature is already 93 degrees.

But "drill sargent" Amanda Hall is ordering her charges to run from one side of the Salem City Pool to the other, holding a "noodle" floatation device down in the water to make it more difficult.

The Balance 30 fitness club owner has been conducting two water aerobics classes at the city pool each Tuesday and Thursday and, despite the hotter-than-usual summer, 20 people, mostly senior citizens, are in the pool and enjoying a work out.

"When I began water aerobics last year, I had to talk people, especially the seniors, into coming," Hall said. "Those who did come had a great time and started inviting others. They like the idea of having fun with friends, and getting a workout at the same time."

Hall stops the class for a water break, and offers to buy bottled water for participants who forgot to bring their own. Everyone is relaxed and happy. The cool pool water seems to make everyone forget the blazing sun and 93-degrees.

"We have had lots more people at the pool this year," Salem Pool Manager Veronica King said. "For parents with young children or kids old enough to come alone, the pool is a great place to beat the heat, and we have a good lifeguard staff."

At just $1.50 per person, King added a trip to the pool is an excellent deal for a family.

While pool crowds have sometimes been sparse in recent years, the pool has always been in demand for evening rentals for birthday parties and other special occasions. At $20 an hour, it is also a great bargain.

"Weekend dates filled up back in June, and the pool parties have been scheduled almost every night this summer," King said.

King hopes those who have gotten reacquainted with the pool because of this summer's heat will remember to come back next year.

Like many other cities facing tight budgets, Salem city officials have, in the past, questioned whether the number of people who use the pool justifies the cost of operating it.

"Last year, we would sometimes have five people in the pool and wonder if we should close early, but not this year," King said. "While the pool will never pay for itself, we have made more money than last year, and that helps with the cost of repairs and maintenance."

King is hopeful the pool remains a Salem summer tradition, saying she views it as an important city service, that is a big benefit to local children. While record hot temperatures have been good for business, the heat has offered some challenges when it comes to pool maintenance.

"A string of 100-plus degree days causes algae to start to build," King said. "I've gotten some advice from the people who supply our chemicals, and Bill (Public Works Director Bill Worsham) knows what to throw in when problems arise."

King, who is in her second year as pool manager, admits she was no expert on the care of swimming pools when she began, but is learning quickly.

Back in the pool, Amanda Hall is having her students work on their arm strength, by holding plastic milk jugs filled with water behind their heads and lifting them up and down.

On the pool deck, near the steps into the pool, someone has left a metal walker behind and entered the water -- support for Hall's claim that water aerobics allows people with physical challenges -- those who can't workout on dry land -- to remain active.

"Exercising in a pool is easier on the joints," Hall said. "People who can't move well can raise their legs higher than if they try to exercise at home or in a fitness club. Water provides natural resistance that challenges the muscles."

Hall said her early evening class attracts the after-work crowd, which is younger and more physically fit than most participants in her morning classes. Hall adds, with a wicked laugh, that means she can "work them harder, way harder."

Class members may be disappointed to learn that water aerobics will soon come to an end.

The Salem pool's last day for public swimming will be Saturday, Aug. 18, and the pool will close for the year after the last pool party on Aug. 19.

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