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Letter to the Editor: Forest Hills Pool Prices Too High

A resident new to the area says that the borough's pool rates are too high.

My wife and I are fairly new to Pittsburgh, having moved here from Ohio early last year. We bought our house in Forest Hills last April.

The 2013 admission price schedule for the Forest Hills pool was published in the latest Tree City Times, and I was surprised because the daily admission prices and the season pass rates seemed considerably higher than anywhere else I've lived. Today I spent a little too much time poking around online, and confirmed my initial impression.

I called Recreation Director Cindy Simm, and she insisted that the pricing at Forest Hills Pool is lower than four or five nearby pools, but the only one she named was the Edgewood Club, which is private. 

Comparing Forest Hills Pool's rates to every other publicly owned pool I could find in Allegheny County (listed below) that posts rate information online:

  • Forest Hills Pool has the highest fee for a resident family season pass ($295), which is 17 percent higher than the next-most-expensive (Mt. Lebanon) and 96 percent higher than the average ($150.71).
  • Forest Hills Pool has the highest fee for a resident individual season pass ($165), which is 43 percent higher than the next most expensive (Hampton Township) and 146 perent higher than the average ($67).
  • Forest Hills Pool has the highest fee for a resident senior citizen season pass ($95), which is 27 percent higher than the next most expensive (Rosslyn Farms Borough) and 170 percent more than the average ($35.13).
  • Forest Hills has the highest fee for resident daily admission ($7), 17 percent higher than the next most expensive (several pools charge $6) and 39 percent higher than the average ($5.03)
  • Two other pools charge more than Forest Hills for youth daily admission because they do not offer special rates for younger swimmers.  Nevertheless, the Forest Hills Pool daily admission rate for children under ten is 14 percent higher than the average of $4.40.
  • Forest Hills Pool has the highest ratio of individual season pass cost to daily admission rate. In other communities, a resident adult must use the pool an average of 14 times for a season pass to make sense. In Forest Hills, a resident adult must use the pool 24 times for a season pass to make sense.

These numbers are based on the most recent price schedules available—some from 2013, most from 2012 and a few from 2011—for these Allegheny County publicly owned community pools.*

As I said above, I am new to the area and am still getting my bearings here.  Forest Hills may have some legitimate reasons for structuring its pool fees this way, but I am doubtful that it serves the community well.

Jon Holmes

Forest Hills

* Above figures are based on the most recent available rate schedules found online, a few dated 2013, mostly 2012 and a few more from 2011: Allegheny County Parks Swimming  & Wave Pools, Borough of Avalon Pool, Baldwin Borough Swimming Pool, Bellevue Borough Pool, Borough of Etna Swimming Pool, Brentwood Borough Pool, Crafton Borough Pool, Forest Hills Pool, Green Tree Swimming Pool at Wilson Park, Hampton Township Community Pool, Monroeville's Bel-Aire Pool, Mt. Lebanon Outdoor Swim Center, Pittsburgh Citiparks pools, Rosslyn Farms Borough, Scott Township Pool, Shaler Township's Crawford Swimming Pool and White Oak Borough pool.

Do you agree about the pool prices? Do you think the prices are fair? Tell us in the comments section below.

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joyce mroczkowski February 28, 2013 at 11:55 AM
I agree!!! I have lived in the borough for over 20 years and we have always gotten a season pass--but I just cannot afford the cost anymore. My family loves the pool(one of the best maintained) but we just don't use it enough to make a season pass feasible. I would like to see package that offers daily passes at a discount price---I would purchase these.
Lynda Hedfors February 28, 2013 at 01:38 PM
I agree with your post and admire the research you provide. We haven't found the pool to be a good value since the first year we moved here 15 years ago. I would like to add that after reading the 2013 borough budget last evening, I am certain that Forest Hills pays more for many things than is necessary. Though they call for responsible community involvement and ownership, I wonder if they, as elected and paid employees of the borough whose job it is to aggressively look at a balanced distribution of our hard earned money, are constantly looking at ways to eliminate waste at all levels, while making sure that those who risk their lives for our neighborhood are well taken care of. Do they research the level of actual community participation in things that cost money to be certain they are still worthwhile for the community? The specificity of the budget is lacking (it does not detail salaries, for example, though I haven’t checked the website for further details yet) and when speaking about accepting bids for garbage/recycling I have to wonder what was really done to aggressively solicit new bids, not just accept them. We pay unbelievably high sewage fees, more than all neighboring communities, and garbage fees that are sky high, also higher than surrounding communities. Thank you for doing the research in the area of the pool. I hope that some response from borough officials is forthcoming, to all of these areas. I hope to be able to make time to attend future meetings.
Melanie Henninger February 28, 2013 at 01:55 PM
Given the area, and fact that the borough Still HAS a pool is kudos to the borough! Don't use it if its too expensive; this is a voluntary luxury. $300 for a summer for a family to hVe access to a pool; and a nice one at that is a steal. Comparing Forest Hills to Mt. Lebanon is not a valid comparison. Weaves from Forest Hills to Churchill, and the pool was a huge draw for new families to Forest Hills. The other close options are private and quite a bit more commitment. I think the FH pool pass at $300 is a steal!!!
FTW February 28, 2013 at 02:41 PM
I couldn't agree more with the author. The pool is obviously weeding out certain demographics by over pricing this way and it has worked for years. You can get a season pass at Sandcastle for $50... or pay 2.5x that for a local FH public pool.
A Fish February 28, 2013 at 03:14 PM
I am so grateful that we have a safe place to spend the summer. 300$ is worth it! I have many fond memories involving the pool. I can cut corners, save money other ways....to make sure that the pool money is in the budget! Because it is for borough residents only; this is a great way to meet your neighbors! I can not think of a better way to spend my money!
Luna February 28, 2013 at 06:05 PM
First of all, kudos on your research! Nicely done! I have to agree as well. We've lived in the borough since the summer of 2000 and have purchased exactly one summer pass. The pool is generally too crowded and has too few amenities to rationalize the cost. I haven't been impressed.
Jon Holmes February 28, 2013 at 08:30 PM
Thanks to everyone who expressed appreciation of the research I did for this. I was inspired by my disappointment that it would cost me $7 to pop across the road and take a quick dip, which is how I'm inclined to use a pool. Clearly the marginal cost to the city of letting one more person in to swim is nowhere near $7, so when I choose not to swim because of the cost, I not only miss out on the swimming but the city misses out on revenue. I want to respond to Melanie's comment, "Don't use it if its too expensive; this is a voluntary luxury." In my opinion, voluntary luxuries unaffordable to a large fraction of the public are inappropriate uses of public funds, because it means that taxes are used to compel the less-well-off to subsidize the 'optional luxuries' of the more affluent. If there's going to be a publicly owned and maintained pool, I think it ought to be affordable to the vast majority of the people whose taxes fund it. I can only speculate as to why Forest Hills has structured its pool fees in this way. I have a lot of ideas, most of them probably wrong. But the evidence is overwhelming that it doesn't have to to be this way. Every other community in the county that has a pool, that I could find, makes it substantially cheaper for its residents to use, and they all do so without the aid of magic wands.
Luna February 28, 2013 at 09:00 PM
"[V]oluntary luxuries unaffordable to a large fraction of the public are inappropriate uses of public funds[...]" Well said! That's exactly what it comes down to-- public funds (our tax monies) are already being used to pay for the pool and its associated costs. Why is the membership so high?
Lynda Hedfors March 01, 2013 at 02:21 AM
Jon, please believe me that not all Forest Hills folks are so rude. Stay a while, and ignore those who are!
Luna March 01, 2013 at 03:12 AM
I do indeed have children.
Swimmer777 March 01, 2013 at 01:52 PM
You need to compare similar communities. Wilkins, Chalfant, all other WHSD communities: no pool! Churchill: private, bankrupted pool Edgewood: private pool, $875, smaller, concrete only Blackridge: $360, much smaller, concrete area, high fees for activities Look at the tax base in Hampton, Mt. Lebo, and Ross. Farms...not comparable. Alleg County Parks are funded in part by the RAD tax and have lots of $$$. The pool in FH is a tremendous asset, relies on volunteers and families, and attracts new families to the Borough. It is a safe, caring, and enjoyable place to be.
poolperson March 03, 2013 at 01:41 AM
Amen Swimmer777.
Jon Holmes March 03, 2013 at 02:25 AM
Swimmer777 is correct, of course, that Forest Hills doesn't have a tax base (in per capita terms, anyhow) comparable to Hampton Twp., Rosslyn Farms or Mt. Lebanon, all of which have substantially higher average household incomes. On the other hand, very many of the communities with publicly owned pools have significantly lower average household incomes. Forest Hills is not an outlier in terms of its tax base. I don't doubt that Forest Hills Pool is a lovely resource for the people who use it, and I don't begrudge it to anyone. My only argument is with the pricing model it currently uses, which I believe unnecessarily discourages certain ways of using the pool (e.g. the occasional quick swim) and effectively reserves the pool for an inappropriately small slice of the borough's population.
Mary March 04, 2013 at 03:16 AM
I was surprised when I moved here how much the pool passes cost. I work downtown and have many co-workers who live in the city and they pay much less. I do like the pool although I wish they would update the restrooms. Maybe it costs so much because they don't get much money from the borough and they only want the people who use it to pay for it. Of course in the Woodland Hills School District you can go for a "quick dip" for only $2 during open swim times at the district pools but they are indoors.
susan March 04, 2013 at 02:28 PM
My family spent at least 20 summers growing up at the Forest Hills Pool. It was a wonderful bargain, considering the kids were there early in the morning for swim team, spent all afternoon with other neighbors and friends who we knew, and then stayed for Synchronized swim practice in the evenings. We didn't need to spend money on other activities, they spent their whole summer at the pool! The real plus was that you always knew where they were and who they were with. Everyone watched each others children and it was a wonderful way to get to know your neighbors. To this day, most of our friends are those we met at the pool.
Jon Holmes March 04, 2013 at 05:05 PM
Susan, that makes perfect sense and is a great illustration of the point I'm making. It's a reasonable deal for a family that wants to spend many or most summer days at the pool -- still pricier than any other tax-supported pool in the county, but really not bad. Say you've got 2 kids and you buy a family pass. One parent takes both kids to the pool five times a week, only while school is out. Summer vacation is 82 days (I just checked the school calendar), so that works out to about 59 visits to the pool, with one parent and 2 kids, for $295, which is five bucks a visit for the whole group or $1.67 per day per person. If you usually stay for 3 hours, it's 56 cents per hour. Sp of course you say, 'who cares if it's a little more expensive, when it's like the price of a latte a day to entertain the whole family. It's unbecoming to quibble over pennies!' But imagine that you're a busy adult, no kids, with only an hour or two a week to fit in a swim. Or maybe you aren't inclined to swim frequently, but a few times a year it just sounds like a really nice idea. Or what if you're a single mom on a tight budget that can't possibly accommodate a season pass? Then you must pay $7, or more than 4 times as much per day and many times as much per hour. Why? Forest Hills has a lot of busy single adults, elderly people whose kids are gone, professional couples, single moms, kids of single moms, all of whose property taxes help keep the pool staffed and in good repair.
Cindy March 07, 2013 at 09:05 PM
I live in Edgewood and would be happy to pay the for a family pass at the Forest Hills pool if I could get one. As someone pointed out, the Edgewood Club is nearly $900, way out of my budget! And yes, it's a private club, but I'm not sure the amenities are any "nicer" than those of the Forest Hills pool. I did belong to the Edgewood Club 10 or 15 years ago, but it's become too expensive. And I've visited the Forest Hills pool as a guest, and have been impressed by both the pool and the party/activity room.
Guy Russo March 08, 2013 at 01:57 PM
I think that it would be a good idea to present some more options to residents for pool passes. Perhaps some "partial season passes" (maybe something like 20 visits for $80). There has been SOME improvement in options the past few years in that season pass holders can purchase 10 extra daily passes for $45, and 10 more for $50 after July 15, but that still requires the initial expense of the somewhat overpriced regular season pass. The idea I mentioned at the beginning of this comment might entice some Forest Hills residents who would not attend the pool at all because of the high cost of the daily admission and/or full season pass to reconsider.
Stacey March 29, 2013 at 10:08 PM
2013 will be our 7th summer living in the borough, and the price has gone up significantly since we moved here - I think it was $225 in 2006? We bought a pass once, but it rained most of the summer, and our 3-year-old was prohibited from using a lifejacket in the main pool. ???? They said flotation devices were only allowed in the baby pool. again, ???? The main pool was too deep for her even in the shallowest part, and even though this was a coast guard-approved life jacket, they wouldn't let her wear it. I'm disappointed in the pool - it seems like a private club for wealthier residents with older kids and teenagers. I have felt uncomfortable there the few times we have gone.
Churchill Recreation Board April 30, 2013 at 02:40 PM
To clarify Churchill prices from Swimmer777: The "Churchill: private, bankrupted pool" refers to the recently closed Churchill Valley Country Club facility. Churchill Borough doesn't have and never has operated a swimming pool. Also note, the "Edgewood" is not to be confused with the Edgewood Country Club in Churchill, but the private Edgewood Club at the CC Mellor Library in Edgewood. And Blackridge's prices are actually significantly higher for a family of 3 or more: at $425 for the summer months plus you have to pay another $45 per household on top of that for the association membership so it is really $470. THere are discounted rates for a variety of family sizes, first time families, the second year of membership (that's the $360 level--plus $45). I totally sympathize with you that costs don't seem to justify the occasional dip. But on the other hand, many Churchill residents look to Forest Hills swim club and say "where's ours?" Now that you have looked at the costs, try taking a look at the expense of running a pool these days. I just checked out the YMCA and there is one in Wilmerding-check out their pool prices. Also, I notice that Pittsburgh is following suit with many other cities in REPLACING public swimming pools with "spray parks" for cooling down. There's a new twist on keeping a community open space, cold water, and fun for kids without the overhead of pool maintenance and supervision. A pool IS a luxury these days.
Jon Holmes April 30, 2013 at 02:52 PM
Thanks for commenting on this, CRB. The only Blackridge pool that Google is turning up for me is the private Blackridge Swim Club. If Blackridge has a publicly owned pool, I would appreciate a link.

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