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Earlier this year, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation announced that its outdoor pools would open two hours earlier than before—at 11 a.m.—throughout the summer. But last week, it rolled out a new fee schedule for “residents” to use its facilities, which will go into effect on Sept. 6. A surprise to many, a few line items regarded pools:
Neighborhood listservs and local blogs lit up with word of the new regulations, with some fretting that going for a dip would start to cost money after years of free laps. But the department says there’s no reason to worry: As it has in the past, it will continue waiving pool-usage fees for D.C. residents; the pricier regulations governing pools are simply statutory updates for the books. This kind of “right-sizing” hasn’t been performed in the District for roughly 15 years.
“We have no plans at this time to charge residents for public use of pools or fitness facilities,” explains Gwen Crump, a DPR spokesperson. Mayor Muriel Bowser decided to waive fitness-center fees for residents in 2016 late last year.
The new rules result from D.C. Council action in 2013, which allows DPR to issue “fee-based permits.” This means the department can rent out its facilities for private-business activity that aligns with recreation and doesn’t interfere with overall public use. For example, someone who wants to teach a commercial yoga class in a DPR-managed room will soon be able to legally charge patrons for it by applying for a fee-based permit. Vendors can apply to set up shop at public pools, whereas they couldn’t before: a business selling goggles, towels, or healthy concessions, for instance.
DPR still has the power to charge non-residents for accessing the District’s pools, which it says has always been the case. It also currently charges groups like swim teams and camps that want to rent out pool lanes for temporary use. As for other charges in the new rules, DPR notes it’s raised non-resident usage fees by 1.5 times, and by 25 percent for activities requiring permits. Seniors and low-income residents can still get discounts or waivers, as can certain community groups. “To the extent that anything costs more, these are all standard practices in the area,” Crump says.
In a release, DPR adds that the new regulations “will ensure equitable access, the protection of participants on DPR property, and a thorough and efficient permitting system.” “Many of the ideas set in these regulations came from comments from the general public through a permits task force and public meetings,” the department explains.
DPR controls 18 outdoor pools across the District.