We receive a lot of questions about the waiting list, either directly via email or indirectly, via postings to various listservs and so on.
It’s a reasonably new phenomenon, having been started in 2011 when we reached capacity. This was a rapid turnaround from almost going bankrupt a few short years earlier. This is a summary of the pool's history, which outlines how we got here. A fuller history is available in the timeline contained in our five-year plan.
From the late 1970s until as recently as five years ago anybody who walked up to the gate and asked for a membership was, on receipt of the membership fee, granted one on the spot.
My family and I joined the pool in 2003 and I joined the board as secretary in 2005. One of my first tasks was to help draft letters to existing members, asking them to extend loans they had made to the pool to help it stay open. We had gone into serious debt refurbishing our circulation system, with more debt on the way to install a rubber liner. Some of those letters were met with rejection, others not, but the pool, not for the first time in its history on the brink of bankruptcy, survived.
As a result of a lot of hard work and disciplined financial management in the early- and mid-2000s, the pool became more enticing. Nonetheless, the pool was struggling to attract members. In an effort to promote the pool to neighboring communities, we set up stalls at PG Plaza. We danced in the Mt. Rainier Day parade—winning an award one year. We went door to door, asking people to join. We waxed lyrical with our friends, telling people what a great place it was.
We brought in new a pool management company with better and more responsive staff. We improved our filters and our pumps so the water was cleaner. The new rubber liner in the main pool (and later in the toddler pool) made standing in the water a pleasant experience in comparison to the previous rough concrete surface. (And let’s be honest, there’s more standing in the pool than there is actual swimming.) We replaced both our decks and created more shade, planting more than 15 new trees and building two shade structures. We bought grills to allow our members to cook their own food on site. We started having live music. The facilities were spruced up and became more attractive. Generally, it became a better place and people took notice; membership became a coveted entity.
During that time, a lot of the work was done by our members, investing thousands of hours. Some people describe us as a co-op. We’re not technically a co-op, but we do operate on a cooperative basis, with each adult member paying an annual deposit on top of their membership fees that may be redeemed by performing 2.5 hours of work. This past preseason (2015), members performed more than 1,200 hours work in preparing for the new season, painting, gardening, repairing and replacing. Throughout the season, that spirit continues, with everything from our entertainment to ice cream deliveries being organized by volunteers. That saves money, means we have a far better line up of events than any other pool I know and creates a real sense of community and togetherness among those who volunteer and those who benefit from that volunteering.
Today, our membership is larger than it has ever been in the 60-year history of the pool. We now have 675 membership families (~2,500 individuals), larger than a previous cap of 550 families. We also have a waiting list of more than 1,450—more than twice the size of our membership.
In 2015, we had a renewal rate of more than 95%, and were able to offer about 25 memberships to people on the waiting list. Generally, we have found that we get through twice as many people on the waiting list before we fill those slots, i.e., we need to ask 50 people to join before we fill the 25 available memberships.
We can grow no further; the pool is limited by the size of our grounds and the capacity of our pools.
If I had my way, and I genuinely wish I did, we would be able to accommodate everybody. But the fact is that we are a membership-only private pool, and have been one since incorporating in 1956. There are other similar private corporations operating as pools in the vicinity, like Adelphi and Cheverly. The former seeks members; the latter also has a waiting list.
Despite calls from local politicians to reserve memberships for people in the local community, we will accept people as they come off the waiting list, in the order that they joined the list. We are aware of the pool’s discriminatory past and are committed to ensure that no policies that we implement today would permit an exclusionary future to develop. The pool used to only allow membership to those who lived in a certain geographic area—south of the Beltway and west of Route 1 in PG County. We now accept memberships from all addresses and do not envisage excluding people as a result of where they live or, likewise, only extending offers to those who live in a certain catchment area. We have commitments to our current members and to the 1,450+ families on the waiting list. Even if we were to decide on granting preference to people in a certain area, which as I noted above, I do not think we will, we would have to clear the current backlog first.
We do, however, have an ongoing commitment to be a good neighbor and despite our organization as a private business, and our population limitations related to comfort and safety, we have done what we can to increase our outreach to the local community.
· We offered lap-swim-only memberships to people on the waiting list, allowing them to come every morning when we open exclusively for lap swimmers.
· We offer swim-team memberships to all-comers under the age of 18 who can swim at least 50 meters unaided.
· We offered reduced rate swim-team memberships to residents of the Queenstown Apartment complex.
· We changed our guest policy, allowing members to bring guests an unlimited number of times during the week (Monday-Friday) and only imposing a four-visit limit on weekends.
· We donated funds to the Thomas Stone field-trip fund, allowing them to pay for field trips for those who could not otherwise partake in them, and other local charities.
· In addition to our support for the Thomas Stone field trip program, we have contributed additional funds to the school to allow us to rent their parking lot. We direct our members to the school parking with the hope that they will use fewer street spaces.
· We donated money to the mayor’s fund for Mt. Rainier Day.
· For those who visit the pool looking to join, we have a leaflet in English and Spanish, giving information about our facility and providing information about the several other swimming facilities (public and private) in the area.
· We do our best to support local businesses, hiring local bands, selling, for example, Island Style ice cream when we can and many local businesses provide pool-related discounts—including a tattoo-removal business. In doing so, we hope we have helped increased revenues for those businesses.
· We have also sought to reduce our environmental footprint, installing solar panels and permeable surfaces on our grounds. We consistently recycle more than we send to the landfill.
· In an acknowledgement of our exclusionary history, we held a dedication ceremony in September, 2015, for the family of Raymond Bowlding, an African American man who was denied membership of the pool in the mid-1970s. His family, from all along the East Coast, came to the pool and dedicated a new shelter to Raymond, the man whose courage and perseverance led to the integration of the pool. The Washington Post covered the event here and you can read more about the ceremony here.
Five years ago there was no waiting list at the pool. In the years before that, there were repeated, concerted efforts to engage and attract people from the surrounding communities. We succeeded beyond our wildest dreams. The pool can only accommodate so many people, and that is where we are today. In an ideal world, we would not have a waiting list and would be able to offer memberships to all. We live, however, in the real world with a pool and grounds that have limited capacity.
David J. Nolan
President 2013-2018, PG Pool Board