AUBURN — Mayor Jason Levesque wants city staff to take a closer look at the feasibility of developing an aquatics facility, calling the lack of access to a local pool a public health emergency.

The City Council on Tuesday supported a proposal from Levesque that would direct staff to provide a list of potential funding sources, locations and public or private partnerships for such a facility.

Levesque said the split between “those who have and those who have not in terms of access to swimming is growing,” and that a study commissioned by the city in 2021 showed a growing need within all of Androscoggin, Oxford and Franklin counties.

Levesque said the 2021 study looked at a possible pool at the new Auburn PAL Center development, but the study was never made public after the center was deemed not large enough to include an indoor pool.

Kya Gaddas teaches her son, Holdyn, how to swim on June 27 at the Kennedy Park pool. It was the season’s opening day at the Twin Cities’ only municipal pool. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

However, he said, the study includes valuable information that can inform a new process, including a market analysis and potential costs for certain facilities. The study estimated a facility featuring two pools — one regulation “competition” pool and a separate shallower therapy pool for seniors and children — to cost about $15 million.

He said a potential facility also relates to Auburn’s focus on sports tourism.


Levesque said Auburn still has unspent American Rescue Plan Act funds, as well as fund balance from bond funds that could be used, along with potential grants.

Across the country, public pools are facing difficult times. Many are aging, and expensive fixes are tough for local municipalities to prioritize among other rising costs. Lifeguard shortages have also plagued public pools in recent years.

Lewiston’s Kennedy Park pool is the only municipal pool in Androscoggin County.

The YWCA Central Maine in Lewiston offers the only regulation-size indoor public pool in the Lewiston-Auburn area, offering a variety of programs, including swim lessons.

In 2017, the YMCA’s indoor pool on Turner Street in Auburn closed permanently after a flood.


In Lewiston, the pool at Kennedy Park has faced similar challenges to those happening nationwide, including staffing and maintenance that has led to temporary closures. When that happens, an entire region is left without a municipal pool during the summer months.

Mara Gay, a member of the New York Times editorial board, has continually referred to the country’s deteriorating public pools and lack of prioritization of swimming as a public health failure. She told Slate Magazine on Sunday that 4,000 Americans die of drowning every year, and it is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4.

“It is a public health crisis,” she said. “And yet, we think of swimming, in the United States, like a luxury.”

During the meeting, Levesque pointed to recent drownings of Lewiston-Auburn youth in the Androscoggin River and Range Pond.

“We’ve had our share of drownings here in Auburn, and the region,” he said. “We’ve talked about it, but haven’t done it. But this council likes execution.”

For several years, Auburn officials discussed outlet beach at Lake Grove Park as a potential area of focus for an aquatic program, however consistent water quality issues have caused the city to pivot its plans there.


The city has upgraded the facility with a new playground and access to water activities such as kayaking and canoeing, but swimming is considered “at your own risk.”

Levesque said the potential for a pool was discussed by the Edward Little High School building committee, but for several reasons was considered not feasible.

Councilor Dana Staples, who served for many years on the Parks & Recreation Advisory Board, said he consistently heard from people asking for this type of facility.

“There’s a very big need for this in this community,” Staples said.

Councilor Steve Milks said when his children were growing up, he remembers picking them up at the YMCA pool every Friday.

“There’s not an option like that anymore,” Milks said.

Councilor Belinda Gerry said she will support looking into it, adding she wishes she had had more access to water. She can’t swim, she said.

Asked about potential locations, Levesque said the city could look at areas near the Auburn Mall or Great Falls Plaza, which he said could be an “anchor” location in the downtown.

Levesque said the council will vote on an order directing staff to look into a potential facility at its next meeting.

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