LEWISTON — Members of the community are responding with financial support for the Lewiston Recreation Division, after a Sun Journal story last week on a new fee system at the Kennedy Park pool caused an outpouring of feedback from residents.

When the historically-free community pool opened in late June, the aquatic center began charging $1 per person for Lewiston residents, and $2 per person for nonresidents. While many argue the fees are the least the city could ask to cut down on expenses, others say it will limit many of the pool’s longtime users in the mostly low-income downtown neighborhood. 

On Tuesday, Michael Dostie of J. Dostie Jewelers made a donation to allow a free community day at the pool Saturday, July 15, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and now others are lining up to help do something similar.

According to Jason Hanken, superintendent of the Recreation Division, at least three or four others have since reached out to Hanken, and they are working out the details on how to best take advantage of the help.

“The community is passionate,” he said Wednesday. “It’s definitely a good thing.” 

Last week, Hanken said the decision to add fees was difficult, but was a decision the department was told to make in order to address expenses. The aquatic center’s budget for fiscal year 2017-18 is $25,405, and staff say operating the pool for nine weeks in the summer has been eating into other recreation programs.

He said funding for the pool and splash pad has always come directly from revenues generated by the department’s other recreation activities such as adult sports leagues. 

They are also expecting costs to rise next year for certified lifeguards with an expected hike in the statewide minimum wage. 

Hanken said some of the donating community members are looking to do something similar to Dostie, offering a free community day at the pool, while other donations may provide free passes. 

Reached by phone Wednesday, Dostie said he heard about the pool fees over the weekend, and was floored by the comments over social media. 

“They provide a service, and there are costs associated with that,” he said of the recreation division. “Not everything can fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers.”

However, he said, he also saw the other side, in that the fee “could be prohibitive” for some families. 

“It was more of a gesture,” he said regarding the donation. “It was an easy way to give back to the community.” 

Hanken said he has not yet noticed any changes in the daily use of the pool. He said it still averages between 70 to 100 users a day. Last week he said staff at the pool told him that some children had arrived to swim, found out there was a fee, and then returned later with handfuls of change. 

When city officials announced a new webstore for online donations Tuesday, included in the donation options was the Lewiston Recreation Division. 

Dostie said he wasn’t aware of the new webstore, but on the same day he called the city to make the donation. 

According to a news release Tuesday, the webstore is designed as a convenient way for residents to donate to city projects. Among the projects included as of now are the Franklin Pasture Sports Complex and Lewiston’s universally accessible playground proposed for Marcotte Park. 

Also included is the recreation division, for its scholarship programs and general activities funding. 

“In order to fulfill our mission of providing affordable services, facilities and programs to improve the quality of life within the Lewiston community, Lewiston Recreation needs your help!” the webstore states. “Please consider donating to help offset programming expenses and allow us to give discounts and scholarships to those that might not be able to afford it.” 

The webstore can be accessed through www.lewistonmaine.gov/webstore. For more information, contact Finance Director Heather Hunter at 207-513-3017.

[email protected] 

A few weeks after the city began charging admission fees to swim in the Kennedy Park pool, community members are donating funds to make it free. 

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