Debt Crunch Leaves IROC in Cold Water

DERBY – A lack of finances has caused officials at Indoor Recreation of Orleans County (IROC) to pull the plug on the system that heats the therapy and lap pools. The therapy pool is closed but the lap pool will remain open, unheated, at least through next Tuesday.“We’re trying to decide how much of the pool we can keep open, if any,” said Executive Director Phil White. “We’re looking to see whether we can get some help with operating costs to keep the therapy pool open. Until we have some solid support for that, we have to assume we’re not going to heat the pools for a while.”The IROC Board of Directors met last night to discuss their options and voted to close the pool on Tuesday, Aug. 16, "unless and until we can attain financial support to deal with some of the mechanical issues so that it can be operated safely," said White.White said IROC is facing a number of critical issues, including repairs and maintenance, a large debt, high energy costs, necessary refurbishing and problems related to excess humidity in the building. "We got to deal with our existing debt and generate revenues to deal with deferred maintenance and we need to get an impermeable barrier between the pool and the rest of the facility," White said.Parts of the pool's ventilation and dehumidifying system aren't working well, causing humidity to build up in other parts of the building and doing damage to ceiling tiles and other items. White said the goal is to get the pool properly ventilated, the existing solar system online and get enough interim financial support to take care of the problems. For now, IROC directors are focused on keeping the classes, sports center and fitness center operational.The pool costs about $40,000 a year to heat. Electricity and propane run about $80,000 a year each, hence the solar panels, White explained. In all, the center costs about $65,000 a month to operate.White said the board also hopes to continue growing their outdoor recreational events, such as the Dandelion Run, because they are good sources of revenue for IROC."It's tough, but I'm encouraged by some of the response already," White said. "A number of people have expressed a desire to try and help if they can. I got a $1,000 donation just 10 minutes ago and a few hundred dollar donations earlier today." Nonetheless, he added, "It's just really hard."The latest economic problems started when the recession hit, stocks dropped, and pledges dried up. IROC tried to get refinancing through the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) but couldn't because of its heavy debt load. That forced IROC officials to look for other partners and supporters to help with refinancing efforts.“I am optimistic that within a month or two we will have the support we need to move forward,” said White. IROC officials are working hard on getting heat back as soon as possible. IROC will continue to maintain the pool, but it will not provide lifeguards. “This is a short-term and long-term issue,” said White. The long-term is that IROC officials need support for its Vermont Economic Development Authority refinancing so it can restructure its debt. In the meantime, IROC cannot carry the debt it has. “We have short-term operating issues.”White is in the process of calculating how much money is needed. The first thing is to get a budget to keep IROC open without staffing and heating the pool. The second is to find out how much it will take to keep the therapy pool open and staff the pool.White and IROC officials do not take turning off the heat lightly.“This is a financial necessity for the time being,” said White. “We’ve sent out solicitations to membership and regular users. We’re also circulating information to other major skate holders in IROC to deal with our long-term structural issue.”White is confident things will continue to improve as they have over the past several years. However, a substantial debt from 2004, 2005, and 2006 remains and will not just go away.White said VEDA supports IROC and its mission and will do as much as possible to work with the organization if it can find some partners.“That’s what we’re doing,” said White. “We’re hopeful support will be there.”