In March, Mary Nester went to her doctor and received bad news: She needed to go on cholesterol medication.
Nester told her doctor to give her some time to fix the problem with exercise, and started going to the Hutchins Street Square pool about three times a week. Five weeks later, Nester was not only feeling more active, but her cholesterol was back to a good level.
"I look forward to coming," she said. "I'm so grateful for this pool."
Nester's story is common among the group of Hutchins Street Square pool users who regularly use the pool to help a variety of conditions, including arthritis and joint pain.
But the city has struggled over the years to balance the pool's budget, and this year is no exception.
For the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, the Hutchins pool cost $210,000, but there was only $65,000 in revenue, resulting in a loss of $145,000, said Jeff Hood, interim Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services director.
To help reduce the gap, Hood said the city plans to raise fees and reduce pool hours. Adult passes will increase from $3.75 per swim for a Lodi resident to $4.75. Senior and disabled prices will go from $2.50 to $3.50 for a Lodi resident.
Starting June 11, the pool will also be closed starting at 2 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday, and will no longer be open on Saturdays. Hood said the department looked at daily attendance rates for a 10-week period and drafted five schedules before deciding on one.
"It's going to take a major change in the way we operate to make a difference in the budget. ... We simply have to take a first step," Hood said.
For the last 15 years, Lodi resident Gayle McBride has come to the Hutchins Street Square pool to cure her aches and pains. McBride worries that some people who schedule their work-outs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday will no longer receive the benefits of the pool.
"It cuts some people totally out. The pool is primarily for people who need to keep their lives going," McBride said.
About 50 people attended a meeting with Hood last Wednesday where he gave a presentation on the pool's challenges and explained why the city was planning to reduce hours and increase fees.
Hood said the city should save between $20,000 to $25,000 with fewer hours and increase revenue by $30,000 to $35,000 with the fees.
"At least it's no longer a six-figure loss. We then will have to manage hours to make sure we are being cost-effective with our staff," Hood said.
Costs for the pool include $156,000 in part-time labor, $25,000 for heating and filtering, $3,500 in chemicals and $2,500 for janitorial services. There are also costs for administration, maintenance and finance.
When looking at the budget, Hood said the city is also expecting several repairs. The city has to spend $1,800 to repair the exterior double doors and $11,000 to repair a pipe for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that was damaged by copper thieves. The biggest item will be $50,000 to repair the 24-year-old pool lining, which is failing, Hood said.
Dee Phillips has used the pool for the last 21 years because she has three prostheses, and a doctor recommended she start swimming. She said many of the swimmers are worried the cuts are the start of the city closing down the pool.
"They are going to chase us away one way or the other," she said. "This is the only exercise I get. Without this, I'm a couch potato."
But Hood said city staff realize the pool is a valuable asset, and there are no plans to close it.
"We will not be closing the pool," he said. "The pool will continue to operate. We are faced with a lot of challenges to make it financially feasible to operate it on a daily basis."
When talking with concerned pool users, Hood said they often stress the health benefits. He personally understands how important the pool is because his son has juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and had two joint surgeries by the age of 13.
His son's only form of exercise for six months was swimming at Hutchins.
"I've been there, I know," Hood said. "Any recommendation that I make regarding the function of the pool, I do understand what it means for people, their health and their quality of life."
While in the pool Tuesday, McBride suggested the city look into a fundraiser to help with the pool's operations. McBride said she would like to see an option where people could choose to pay more for their monthly pool pass as a donation to help with daily operations.
But McBride said there would need to be a guarantee that the money would go for the operation of the pool and would not get shifted elsewhere in the aquatics program.
She also said they are planning to ask local businesses to help sponsor the pool.
The department is open to suggestions, Hood said, but still needs structural changes because one-time money will only go so far. Instead he would recommend the donations go toward repairs for the aging pool.
He also said several people argued that the city should take money from other programs to pay for the pool.
"I will not reduce park maintenance any more, I will not charge more for youth sports, and I'm not willing to increase the rental rates for picnic shelters simply to be able to afford to operate the pool the way we are," Hood said.
The city of Lodi's Recreation Commission will discuss the reduced hours and fee hike at its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Carnegie Forum, 305 W. Pine St.