Let’s save pool, bowling alley using WAEMS example

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.

The time has come to adopt the principles of this area’s most successful cooperative service adventure ever to save two important recreational activities — swimming and bowling.

The time has come to apply the principles of Wayland Area Emergency Services (WAEMS), a cooperative effort of a dozen governments in northeast Allegan County and western BarryCounty that has done a terrific job over more than 40 years of serving thousands of people with reasonable quality, efficiency and cost.

There has been some talk about creating a multi-community recreational authority, and perhaps it’s time to move past the talking stage before we lose a swimming pool and a bowling alley for financial reasons. Some may dismiss bowling and swimming as lot less important than public services such as police, roads and fire. But I submit both go a long way in quality of life, interestingly in reducing crime.

Most crimes are committed by young people with not a lot to do, as in “Idleness is the Devil’s workshop.” It’s been proven that if you give the most crime-prone age group something to do, they’ll be too busy to get into mischief.

Sports such as bowling and swimming have opened doors for young people that were closed to them in bygone days. They have done the same kinds of things as music, art and theater have done in attracting young people who otherwise don’t have positive things to do. This was why I was so much in favor of the Fine Arts Center.

Bowling and swimming, also valuable activities for adults in the community, both are in trouble. The news recently is that Airport Lanes may be facing legal and financial challenges and that the high school swimming pool, more than 42 years old and not up to standards for interscholastic competition, may be tossed into the dustbin of history.

The bowling alley, nearing 70 years of serving the Wayland area, has issues with maintenance, zoning and perhaps the health department. It probably will last through the coming winter season, but it’s anybody’s guess if it will be with us after that. The lanes are in excellent shape, but because the current owner has health and financial issues, it may join Plainwell Lanes as a former bowling alley.

Losing interscholastic bowling and swimming would also be a shame because Wayland has been wildly successful of late, even boasting of state runner-up Sydney Urben in 2016.

Making matters worse, Prof. Robert Putnam’s landmark treatise, “Bowling Alone,” has identified the demise of social and community life in modern American society. Fewer people than ever get together in their communities to work together to improve local quality of life, but instead focus a lot more time inside their homes watching TV, playing video games or surfing the Internet.

Swimming will face a slow death as well. The pool is expensive to maintain and too often has to be shut down. It is almost worthless as a facility for competitive swimming (the MHSAA says so) and it’s greatest value, teaching young people a life-saving skill, is at serious risk.

The school district put a new swim pool proposal on the ballot last May and it was soundly defeated by a 2-to-1 margin. Though the scaled down second attempt for a bond was passed narrowly, prospects are not good for a new pool in Wayland any time soon.

Yeah, as always, it all boils down to money.

I propose creation of a non-profit recreation cooperative for the Wayland, Hopkins and Martin school districts, with all three boards sending a rep to a governing board, with the same representation from local townships, the city and the casino. Collectively, these municipalities could establish a fund to maintain bowling and swimming activities as a public service.

I propose that the current Airport Lanes owner be kept on only as facility manager, with a special use agreement to be made with PCI and Leighton Township. High school team members could work, at minimum wage, in staffing and maintaining it.

I propose that Wayland schools manage and maintain the new pool because they have the personnel, but team members and high school students should do routine maintenance work and lifeguarding. A

manager should handle other duties.

I propose that Wayland, Hopkins and Martin create a three-school team for both boys’ and girls’ high school and middle school swimming, just like so many other area teams consist of one or more schools. The bowling teams all could be separate, but all could find a way to practice and play at Airport Lanes for home competition.

I propose that all community residents in the three school districts be given access to the pool and bowling alley cheaply any time the high school or middle school teams are not using it.

Of course, the biggest stumbling block is money. But if all the townships served by WAEMS were invited to be included, it just might be enough to keep these underrated activities available for residents and young people, with the added benefit of keeping crime low.

To be sure, there remain many questions, particularly financial. But perhaps creating such an autonomous collective would enable it to secure grants to help pay for what’s needed.

Otherwise, we can just wring our hands and say there’s nothing we can do while we watch bowling and swimming go the way of “Bowling Alone.”




  • I totally agree. I mentioned this idea in a comment I made on your previous article about the AirPort Lanes.
    It would take a lot of work and cooperation but it could be done. It would be a smart move by the school districts.
    Who wouldn’t want to live in a district that has a state of the art swimming pool and a wonderful bowling alley.
    Bowling and Swimming are activities people from all ages and abilities can do. What a special gift this would be to our community–especially our children. Let’s do it!

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