Orono and UMaine partner to reopen town pool
ORONO, Maine — The Orono Municipal Pool reopened Tuesday after it was closed for a year due to COVID-19, through an expansion of a partnership between the town and the University of Maine.
But while the pool has reopened, the number of people who can dive into the deep end is limited and so are the hours of operation, Parks and Recreation Manager Meghan Mazzella said Wednesday.
It would have been easier to keep the pool closed, but the message was clear: Orono needs the pool, Mazzella said.
“We heard that the community really wanted this, and this is a wonderful amenity,” she said. “We heard ‘no matter the cost, we need this’.”
The reopening of the pool is part of the town’s latest multi-million-dollar budget. It costs around $40,000 alone to run the pool, according to town budget documents.
Opening a pool isn’t just filling it up with water and opening the gates. There was an added challenge of having to find lifeguards, which weren’t easy to come by, Mazzella said.
“We’re not sure if it was COVID or a fear of moving back out into the world. But finding employees was difficult,” she said. “We had to make adjustments to our facility, but we did get it open for the summer, and that’s pretty exciting.”
Then, the town needed a pool director, but couldn’t find one. So with little to no staff the University of Maine came into play, Mazzella said.
UMaine has several longstanding partnerships with Orono including a new development of collaboration with UMaine Campus Recreation, Kenda Scheele, UMaine associate vice president for Student Life and senior associate dean of students, said.
Members of Campus Recreation worked with Mazzella to find lifeguards and run the day-to-day operations of keeping the pool safe, while Mazzella focuses more on ensuring the facility is functioning, Orono’s recreation manager said.
UMaine Coordinator for Fitness and Aquatics Adrianna Del Amo is the UMaine representative who manages the lifeguard staff at the pool because technically they are all UMaine employees. The town and the university also have existing partnerships that include programming available to residents such as summer camps, Del Amo said.
“We already had a pretty solid foundation with the town, like our summer RAD camps. It’s a hard summer for everyone — especially aquatics,” she said. “Most people weren’t able to get certified due to social distancing measures.”
To make sure the facility remains staffed, the lifeguards on duty at the Orono pool also cycle through and work at the rec center on UMaine’s campus and are employed by UMaine, Mazzella said.
Swimmers that come to the Orono pool will notice a few changes, like a limit of 50 people allowed inside the gates at a time. A restriction not due to COVID-19, but to keep the lifeguard to patron ratio at a safe level, Mazella said.
The pool is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and is not open on the weekends — another change, Mazzella said.
With staffing levels low and a change in behavior of residents that use services and programs offered by Orono Parks and Rec there is also no current programming at the pool, aside from required swim tests for kids, she said.
“We’re seeing that as families have spent time together at home during COVID, they’re looking for less structured programming and more spaces to recreate,” Mazzella said. “I think people are looking more for things like the pool, where they can just be.”
The locker rooms are also closed, masks must be worn inside the building that leads to the pool and the kiddie pool is closed.
Passes must be purchased in advance as well, as the front desk of the pool is not handling money, which also means there are no snacks, Mazzella said.
Day pass prices are $3 per person for residents and $6 for non-residents. Seasonal passes are also available for $40 for a single resident, $80 for a single non-resident, $80 for a resident family pass or $160 for a non-resident family pass.