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Monday, May 18, 2020

Community pools weigh options for reopening amid uncertainty about COVID restrictions

The Sleepy Hollow Recreation Association is gearing up for a late opening.
Usually around this time of year, members of community pools would be sprucing up their properties, hosting open houses, and scrambling to sign up new families.

Not this year. Pool boards are still trying to figure out when to open, how to comply with the state’s social distancing rules, and how to stay afloat financially as the COVID pandemic continues.  

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s rules for Phase I of the recovery plan says swimming pools could reopen but only for lap swimming with a limit of one person per lane. 

Phase I started May 15 for the state as a whole, but won’t start until May 29 in Northern Virginia, where the numbers of COVID cases and deaths are still climbing. Northam said Phase I would generally last about two weeks. Phase II, which would further loosen restrictions, would go into effect when certain health metrics are met. 

The Camelot pool in Annandale plans to open Memorial Day weekend on a “limited basis,” Camelot President Abraham McAllister told the Wakefield Weekly

The pool will allow members to rent time slots, with no more than three families allowed on the pool deck at a time. Camelot will not collect dues (normally about $600 a year) while the plan is in effect and will instead charge $40 during the week and $50 on weekends for a 90-minute slot. 

Here are what other pools are considering for the summer:

Lincolnia Park

The Lincolnia Park Recreation Club also could open as early as May 29. But with swimming restricted to one person per lane, “we have to determine whether we can do it safely or whether it makes sense to open at all under those circumstances,” says Membership Director Andrew Wise.

“Part of the consideration is whether we can afford to open at all with what will be much less membership,” Wise says. 

“We’re asking community members to be as generous as they can be, and we’re asking them to mark their dues for donation, if we can’t open,” he says. “Many members have already done that or have given us additional donations on top of their dues.” 

However, he notes, “Everyone is suffering with economic distress, so people may not be as generous as they would hope.”

“It’s hard to imagine we can get through this season for less than $30,000 of expenses just to clean the pool, run it for a limited time, and winterize it,” he says. “We won’t be comfortable going into 2021, even if we don’t open this summer.”

Lincolnia Park’s pool management contract has some fixed costs, and there will be some work required just so the equipment doesn’t get destroyed, Wise says. “We will have to spend tens of thousands of dollars not to operate.” 

“Either way, we’ll make our way through, but we will have to be really careful in the future,” he says. “I don’t think people will be rich and happy, even after coronavirus.” 

Holmes Run

The Holmes Run Acres Recreation Association hopes to open this summer, although an opening date hasn’t been set. “The earliest would be May 29 but that is still subject to change,” says President Mark Sites. 

“From the beginning, our message was, ‘everyone’s safety is our top priority,’” Sites says. “If it’s not safe, we won’t open.” And there won’t be any social events, at least in the early summer.

The Holmes Run Pool sets membership rates in January and starts signing up members in February. “Usually we would have over 100 paid members by now,” he says. “We understand people want to hold off and see what the summer is going to look like.” 

After the pandemic took hold, the Holmes Run pool board told members the rates would be adjusted, with the amount depending on when the pool opens and how restrictive the rules will be. The 36 households that had already paid will get a refund. 

The impact on the budget “remains to be seen,” he says. “There are costs even if the pool is closed all summer.” 

The Holmes Run pool board will have to spend $130,000, whether it’s open or not. “People will have to contribute,” he says. “We’re trying to get people to understand if you’re a shareholder, you’re an owner.” 

Broyhill Crest

The Broyhill Crest Recreation Club in Annandale hopes to open June 10, but hasn’t made a final decision, reports President Erin Donovan. “Our hope is to open for more than just lap swimming.” 

“We are preparing to open. The cover is off, water is going in, and we’re doing the normal steps, like inspections,” Donovan says. 

The biggest questions for the Broyhill Crest pool are when the county will provide operating permits for outdoor pools and how to handle the social distancing requirements. That might mean setting a limit on the number of people allowed in at a time. 

The Broyhill Crest pool
The pool doesn’t have any paid members this season, as the board was about to start its annual membership drive when the pandemic hit. “We decided to suspend memberships until we know what will happen,” Donovan says. 

“We feel like we can get through the year even without members. The pool is in good financial shape this year. We’re in a good position even if we don’t open,” she says. A cell tower on the pool property has been providing a steady source of income for years. 

The Broyhill Crest pool board will still have to pay its management company, Atlantic Pool Service, to maintain the pool whether it opens or not. Meanwhile, the board put out a notice asking teens to apply for lifeguard jobs. Usually, Atlantic brings in lifeguards from overseas, but Donovan doubts whether that can happen this year. 


Dave Galway, president and membership chair for the Parklawn Pool in Lincolnia, expects the pool board will decide within the next couple of weeks whether to open.  

A lot depends on how much of the season can be saved. The idea of having only lap lanes open is “untenable,” Galway says. 

“Our pool has six lanes. Does that mean only six people can use the pool at one time? We have over 1,000 members. Six lanes aren’t going to do it,” he says.

If Parklawn does open, he says, “members might be asked to sign a waiver stating they won’t hold the pool responsible if they get COVID, although that doesn’t completely protect us.” 

Some pools are looking into having families sign up for a block of time, Galway notes. That’s a possibility for Parklawn.

“If the season is a bust, we’ll allow members to roll their payment over to next year, even though we have a clause that says no refunds,” he says. “Other pools may not have that option.” 

Still, there are many other unresolved questions around reopening, Galways says. For example, would lifeguards be responsible for enforcing social distancing? Will the county require pools to have water and pumps running so pools don’t become a breeding ground for mosquitoes? 

In one bit of good news, Fairfax Water extended the deadline for giving pools a discount if they fill up before a certain date, Galway notes. He heard the county will give pools a refund on the annual fee for an operating permit, which is about $500, if they don’t open, but that is not definite. 

The big question for Galway is: “is it possible to revive the season cost wise?” Parklawn already has about 400 prepaid members. He believes a lot of people look at membership as an annual cost and pay whether they use the pool or not. 

The pandemic is “obviously a big letdown,” Galway says. “Is this a one-hit wonder or is this something that’s going to linger for years to come?”


  1. Sounds like Parklawn will have too many members to open its pool, a victim of success.

    1. No, but lap lanes only (six are possible for our pool) limits any pool quite a bit. Lap lanes are side by side and in one section of our 4 section pool. Why not also use the deep end or shallow end or baby pool space (Parklawn has these other large spaces) which is possible still within distancing rules? Give a family the opportunity to use one of those other 3 spaces by themselves and now you're giving the membership a better shot to more enjoyably/normally use the pool. So I think there may be a more dynamic solution than just using lap lanes that gives our membership a better chance to still safely enjoy their pool.

  2. Does anyone know if pools will allow pay per entry (for lap swimming) and not through membership? What happens when the number of people is allowed to go up to 50 in later phases?

  3. As a pool board member myself without health permits and guidance from the state and county all this opening talk is wishful thinking. Especially if the plan is to open before mid to late June.

  4. Parklawn: denying refunds to 400 pre-paid members, debating how air-tight hold harmless waivers are, calling the pandemic a big letdown, and wondering if it’s a one-hit wonder. Other pools: prioritizing safety, adjusting or suspending dues, thoughtfully planning distancing, requesting donations, and empathizing with families’ economic distress. People sometimes wonder what the difference is among area pools. Here ya go.

    1. Anon 2:29: What a stupid and ignorant thing to say. And good for you hiding behind "anonymous". Dave Galway and the board have done wonders for Parklawn and the 1000 members are a testament to that fact. It is clear in his interview with the Annandale Blog that the board is considering the members' dues and is concerned with social distancing. Not sure what your point is other than to put down Parklawn. You're a sad, sorry troll: there ya ho.

  5. I think that most area pools are trying to give their members some sort of pool experience. It has to be safer than going to a gym or a restaurant. The concept of a waiver is ridiculous though - you are choosing to do something and should know the risks (Disney is basically saying the same thing) no one is forcing you to the pool.