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Editor’s Note: Parks & Rec Business magazine presents the second part in a year-long series of articles that will focus on… Everything H20, from pool equipment, safety, staffing and programming to profiles and perspectives on the latest aquatics facilities, water parks and splash parks in public parks and recreation.

Willie Basil has a long history with Jones Recreation Center, the only public swimming pool in Demopolis, Ala., and now he’s a part-time full-timer at the center.

For Basil, managing the center is primarily a labor of love, as his full-time job is as a shift worker at the local paper mill. Basil is the facility and pool manager at Jones Recreation Center, reporting to the city’s parks and recreation department.

Basil has been managing the pool on and off — mostly on — for about 15 years. When he first came on board around 1989 he had very little experience with the ins and outs of running a pool.

What Basil had, however, was a dedication to diligence and a background in emergency management as a former fire fighter and EMT for Demopolis. Those skills and dedication have helped make the pool one of the more popular summer destinations for Demopolis residents and the surrounding counties. Basil says recent attendance is “off the charts.”

Groundwork

The original impetus for giving the pool more attention had less to do with driving attendance, and more to do with safety.

“We’re almost surrounded by rivers, and as a firefighter I had been to several drownings,” says Basil. “I was talking to the chief of the fire department the other day, and he said it’s been a long time since we’ve had a drowning. When I was there we had two to four per year. That’s one of the main reasons I went into it, and one of the main reasons I’ve stayed.”

Safety is still the pool’s first priority. Increased attendance and improvements to the pool and facility have come along as a matter of course. Run a safe, clean facility with strong programming and popularity is a natural byproduct, says Basil.

The pool facility includes an entrance foyer and showers that lead to the new pool deck, a covered shed and concession stand and new landscaping. The main building is used for other programming, like arts and crafts and special-event rentals, during and after the swimming season (which runs about three months in the summer, six days a week).

Though the pool does not have a diving board because of liability and the pool’s depth (8 1/2 feet at its deepest), Basil recently added commercial pool basketball hoops.

“Mostly what our pool is for is to teach kids to swim, and give families a nice, clean place to socialize,” says Basil. “At one time we were mostly targeting the kids, but usually if you draw the parents, you keep the kids. That’s one of the reasons for the remodeling we’re doing now, like the new deck and a shed over the deck. Most adults like a shady place to be, so this other part is trying to draw the parents, and it has really worked.”

Solid programming has also contributed to the pool’s popularity. Jones Recreation Center offers child and adult swim classes and Basil likes to mix and match wet and dry activities — like incorporating the playground across the street — to keep things fresh and moving. Basil says he’s after a healthy balance of structure and play time.

“Everyone learns to swim differently. Certain kids are going to be more aggressive and some are going to be passive about learning. Everyone has to take their own way. If the child is not comfortable in the water, the child will never learn to swim. Our biggest thing is making sure the kids are comfortable in the water and feel safe with us,” explains Basil.

“Even during our structured swim lessons there’s a structured play time, which gives the kids the freedom to play in the water among their peers. The lifeguards also need to get in the water, play with the kids, let them get accustomed to them and to trust them. Then things move pretty quickly. Once we get the kids to trust us from station to station and skill to skill it’s not a problem.”

Detail Orientation

The foundation of successful programming, says Basil, is certified and qualified lifeguards. The ideal, he says, is to pull from the same pool of kids who went through your program years ago. “They already know your way; there are no bad habits you have to change,” says Basil.

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