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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Lāna'i City's only public pool closed

By Ilima Loomis
Maui News

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Harry Saunders

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LĀNA'I CITY In another sign of hard times, residents have been without a place to swim in Lāna'i City since landowner Castle & Cooke Resorts closed the island's only public pool nine months ago.

Lāna'i residents said senior citizens used the pool to swim laps, and that it was an important summer gathering place for children who couldn't drive down the mountain to the beach. But Castle & Cooke President Harry Saunders said the shutdown was a necessary budget cut at a time when the resort has been laying off employees in the face of low occupancy and a dismal economy.

"If we were running at 90 percent occupancy, we'd probably still be operating it," he said.

Residents are hoping Maui County will step in to take over the pool and reopen it. But with the county facing at least a $44 million budget deficit, officials said taking on the task of staffing, maintaining and operating a new pool is not in their plans.

Castle & Cooke closed the pool in April, shutting down the island's only movie theater at the same time. It had operated the pool as a public facility since building it for the community about 20 years ago.

Tom Burke, owner of Lāna'i Fitness Center, who managed the community pool for Castle & Cooke from 2003 until it closed, said the pool averaged just nine swimmers a day in winter, while as many as 35 to 50 people might use the pool on a weekend day in summer.

Faced with a 24 percent decrease in visitor arrivals over the past year, Castle & Cooke Resorts and the Four Seasons have laid off or furloughed about 20 percent of their combined work force, and cut hours by 10 to 15 percent for workers that remain, Saunders said.

According to a report provided by Castle & Cooke to the Maui County Council in April, the company spent about $190,000 to operate the pool in 2008.

But Mayor Charmaine Tavares said the county would be very reluctant to take over a facility that would include a nearby track, ball field and park for a total annual operating cost estimated at $500,000.

The county is facing a $40 million to $60 million budget shortfall and will look at cutting existing programs, furloughing workers and raising taxes to make it through the 2011 fiscal year, budget officials have said.