Residents pack the pool at Jamie Farr Park in North Toledo. It is one of the city pools that opened recently; two others have been closed.
East Toledo is reeling from the destruction of Ravine Park pool and the pending destruction of the Collins Park pool. There will now be only one public swimming pool in East Toledo, at Navarre Park.
That sounds bad. And it is. But the larger problem — and it could become an acute one — is not the lack of public pools per se. It is the lack of recreational programs and activities for young people and young families.
Moreover, the lack of foresight and imagination of the city’s political leaders in this regard is manifest. Members of city council rail about the mayor’s plans to close four of the city’s 11 public pools. But nobody did much to prevent the decay and planned closure of these two public pools. That happened over many years.
And where were the mayor’s harshest critics during last year’s referendum to fully fund a renewed and robust parks and rec program in Toledo? The mayor did back it and two council members — Lindsay Webb and Steven Steel — really pushed for it.
But there was little political heft behind it. You want a solid recreation program? You have to pay for it.
Whether public pools are the way to go is doubtful. These two pools, in particular, would cost a cool $1 million each to update and repair. You can do a lot with $2 million.
Public pools are enormously expensive to staff, maintain, and repair. There are huge liability considerations, and they are only moderately used for a few weeks of the year. Granted, their benefit was evident this week, when six of Toledo’s public swimming pools opened to the relief of heat-afflicted children in the city. Mayor Mike Bell greeted swimmers at Wilson Pool, where he swam as a boy.
The mayor, rightly, said learning how to swim is vital, especially for minorities. It gives children a healthy and constructive way to spend idle time and even creates job opportunities.
But the city could also build some basketball courts, a softball diamond, and a volleyball court in East Toledo, for, relatively speaking, peanuts. It could create temporary wading pools and fountains and an ersatz beach for the summer.
It could also set aside fields for multiple use: Soccer, lacrosse, and field hockey. It could contract with the Oregon (Eastern Community) YMCA to run a summer swim program or the Summit Street Y, across the bridge, to run youth weightlifting or basketball programs. It could run tennis clinics and start a bike club.
These are all affordable options. There should be public meetings and informal polling to find out what the community wants and needs.
If the East Toledo pools are no longer viable, what are the options? Where are kids and families supposed to go for recreation in the summer?
It is not only wrong to have no answer to that question, but also dangerous. The mayor is right that the pools are no longer viable. But leadership is not only about tearing down what no longer serves us. It is also about building what does.