Tayvian Franco, 8, swims with friends at the Kennedy Park pool in Lewiston on Monday. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — City officials say the Kennedy Park pool, which has been booming during the recent summer heat wave, will remain free to the public for the foreseeable future.

Last year, due to rising costs, the city instituted a $1 admission fee for the pool, but following public outcry, a number of Lewiston business owners and residents donated enough money to keep the pool free.

Although the fee was only in effect for a short time last year, the City Council officially abandoned the pay-to-swim policy during budget discussions this spring, by funding the aquatics program through the city’s general fund rather than including the program in the Recreation Department budget.

Recreation Department Superintendent Jason Hanken said last year that costs to run the pool were eating into the profits from other recreation activities such as adult sports leagues.

The public pool in Kennedy Park typically opens in late June and closes in late August, but officials said last year that it’s the most costly division of the recreation program.

However, members of the public and those donating to the aquatics program last year argued that even a $1 entry fee is too much for families and children in downtown Lewiston, where the majority of pool regulars qualify as low-income.

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Former Mayor Larry Gilbert was among the first to bring the issue to the City Council last summer, and he was among those donating to the pool. He said he was inspired to speak out when he saw a child with only 17 cents turned away at the gate.

He said when he was police chief, his office overlooked the importance of a community pool.

City Administrator Ed Barrett said Monday that for now, at least, the city is planning to continue operating the pool at no cost to the public.

“It can always be revisited, but I think for the moment we’re going to be planning on future budgets just including the cost of operating the pool in the city budget,” he said.

The past two weeks, with temperatures regularly hitting 90 and above, has given residents a reason to want to cool off.

On Monday, as dozens of people jumped and splashed in the pool and ran through flying water in the splash pad area, a few regulars said they’re happy the fee is done with.

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Robert Wilson, a father of two boys in the pool Monday, said people are “relieved” that there’s no longer a fee and that the city is planning to keep it that way. He said people in the neighborhood can’t afford much and that the pool provides a good place for kids to enjoy summer.

One pool user, a boy who declined to give his name, said he noticed that the fee cut into attendance last summer. Now, he said, it’s back to where it was before.

One pool staff member said she hasn’t seen a noticeable change between this year and last.

Hanken said attendance has averaged 180 each day with about 70-90 in the facility at any given time. He said that’s up from about 100 last year.

“We also have had much better swimming (and) splashing weather, with the average temperature up about 5 degrees over the first two weeks,” he said.

According to Finance Director Heather Hunter, the estimated budget for the aquatics program this year is $16,685. She said the council transferred $7,500 from the general fund to cover the program. The remaining portion of the program, she said, is covered by program surpluses and fund balance from last year, which included $372 in carryover from the donations received.

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Last year’s total budget for the aquatics program was roughly $25,000 — significantly higher than this year’s budget due to a repair project done in the off-season.

The city issued a reminder on social media Monday morning that the pool is free.

The pool is open weekdays from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. through Aug. 17, and every Saturday until Aug. 4 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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