Losing out on lap time: Kona pool closing early due to down staffing

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KAILUA-KONA — A lack of staff has pool hours reduced at the Kona Community Aquatic Center — a temporary set back the county says it hopes to remedy by April although some people are skeptical they’ll get the extra lane time back.

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KAILUA-KONA — A lack of staff has pool hours reduced at the Kona Community Aquatic Center — a temporary set back the county says it hopes to remedy by April although some people are skeptical they’ll get the extra lane time back.

Some swimmers say pool hours have been scaling back more and more for years, and the latest half-hour lost is just another example of the pattern.

“You don’t get to count on it like you used to,” said Daniel Hodel on the regular hours.

A pool user since 2001, he remembers a time when it opened earlier, wouldn’t close for lunch during the weekdays and wouldn’t close randomly for maintenance days like it seems to now monthly.

“I haven’t done the math,” he said. “But it must be a 30 percent reduction.”

Recently, the pool began closing at 6:30 p.m. County Parks and Recreation Director Charmaine Kamaka said the pool is experiencing a staffing shortfall.

“We’re in the process of hiring,” she said.

A down position requires the aquatic center’s custodian to currently split time between the Hilo and Kona pools. With the divided time, staff are closing the pool early to take care of the cleaning. Alejandra Flores-Morikami, recreation specialist for the county, said. She said they want to return to 7 p.m. by the end of April when they expect to have the position filled.

The reduction has bumped a master’s swim program from gathering in the evening. Instead, participants have to catch the morning class if they want to jump in.

“It has disrupted the master’s program,” said Joe Florendo, one of the members who goes in the morning now.

Retired, he said he was fortunate his schedule was open to change. But he’s seen others unable to accommodate the switch because of work. Richard Ritter is one of those who couldn’t make the switch, and is missing out on class.

“It’s an unfortunate situation,” his wife, Pam Harlow said. “It’s such a heavily used pool.”

Hodel said the recent setback is befitting a pattern. The pool used to open at 6 a.m., now it’s 6:15. Throw in the hour-plus lunch break and that’s more lost time, and random closures for maintenance leave some swimmers worried the pool isn’t being taken care of, though nearly all the swimmers interviewed praised the staff that does work at the pool.

“It’s almost like they don’t care about it,” Hodel said about the county’s view of the facility.

Officials said, though, it’s a temporary setback due to staffing. The pool updates swimmers of any sudden changes on its information line, 327-3500.

“It’s taken longer than anticipated,” Flores-Morikami said on filling the down post.

Other swimmers said they’re happy to have the free pool and a change in hours isn’t a detriment.

User Nalu Spencer sometimes swims, sometimes just uses the facility’s showers to rinse after the beach. He noticed it closes earlier, which means he rinses off farther down the way at Old Kona Airport Park, which isn’t an inconvenience in the grand scheme of things.

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And Angelica Sage swims three to five times a week in the mornings and found the exercise healed her pinched nerve.

“I’m very blessed that it’s here,” she said of the pool. “Wonderful people swim here and the staff is always great.”

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