Toledo mayoral candidate Joe McNamara dove into a neighborhood dispute with the city on Thursday, accusing Mayor Mike Bell of failing to consider neighborhood support of a local — but long-closed — swimming pool.
With jackhammers kicking up dust behind him, Councilman McNamara suggested the $5 million surplus recently declared in the city budget might have been well used in restoring the Ravine Park pool that was built in 1969 and demolished this week.
“Mayor Bell should be fighting for community anchors in East Toledo, not tearing them down,” Mr. McNamara said at Ravine Park at Dearborn Avenue and Colorado Street. “I think Mayor Bell is out of touch with what people want in the neighborhoods.”
Heavy machines and jackhammers were busy pulverizing the concrete walls of the Ravine Park pool — about the same time in previous years that city crews would have been busy getting it ready for another influx of children.
Mayoral spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said the city’s intent to demolish the pool has been known for a year. She said unused pools are a dangerous nuisance, attracting vandals and graffiti.
“We do care about neighborhoods. We’re abating nuisances in neighborhoods because these are not going to be usable assets,” Ms. Sorgenfrei said. She said the pool closed in 2006. Neighbors and news reports indicate it was reopened for the 2008 season.
Mr. Bell, a political independent, is seeking a second four-year term. He, Mr. McNamara, Democratic Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, independent Councilman D. Michael Collins, independent city worker Alan Cox, and Republican evangelist Opal Covey are collecting signatures to get their names on the primary election ballot for Sept. 10.
The top two vote-getters will face off in the November election.
Representatives of neighborhood groups fumed that they were not warned about the demolition or given a chance to save the pool. They joined Mr. McNamara and District 3 Councilman Mike Craig at Thursday’s news conference.
Mr. Craig said neither he nor any of the neighborhood improvement groups had any notice of the coming demolition until he read it on Facebook.
“There should have been a community meeting. You can’t run a city by not communicating with the citizens, the people who own this pool,” Mr. Craig said. He estimated the cost of a “bare-bones” repair of the vandalized and neglected pool at $100,000, but another man at the conference said the city put the figure at $400,000.
Mr. McNamara said if the $5 million surplus just announced by the mayor is for real, council should consider using the money for the city’s capital improvements priorities.
“If there’s money to give raises to political insiders, there’s money to fix pools. If there’s money to buy luxury SUVs, there’s money to buy pools. If there’s a $5 million surplus, there’s money to fix pools,” Mr. McNamara said.
However, he did not commit to using the $5 million to replace the pool, but said it should be discussed by council.
Despite the surprise about this week’s demolition, it’s been talked about a long time. Ms. Sorgenfrei cited a council discussion in June, 2012. And residents held a demonstration at Ravine Park in July, 2012, urging the Bell administration to halt plans to remove the old pool.
The city’s plan was to demolish four of 11 public swimming pools — Highland Park and Ashley in South Toledo and Collins Park and Ravine Park in East Toledo — because they had been vandalized and would be costly to repair.
Ms. Sorgenfrei said the Collins Park pool is still standing, but crews are due there today to drain the water because neighbors complained that youths have broken into the pool and were loitering there.
She said a 1994 study pegged the cost of renovating the Collins and Ravine park pools at $1 million each.
Benjamin Troost, who lives in the neighborhood, said neighborhood groups offered to restore the pool with volunteer help but were rebuffed by the administration.
“We could have done it for free. They said it needs to be union-contracted work,” Mr. Troost said.
Bettye DeAniello, vice president of the Birmingham Development Corp., said the newly formed neighborhood association, One Voice for East Toledo, was considering seeking creation of a “splash pad.”
Ms. Sorgenfrei said recreational activities are a goal, but had no immediate plans for replacing the demolished pools.
Jodi Gross, community builder of the East Toledo Family Center, said neighbors have made clear that they want activities in their neighborhood for youth.
“If it doesn’t happen you’re going to have revolt. You’re going to have people out there angry,” she said.
Contact Tom Troy: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419--724-6058.