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They Closed My Town's Public Swimming Pool!

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Ronda Kaysen: The public pools in Montclair -- my suburban New Jersey town -- were supposed to open for the summer on Memorial Day weekend. But a message turned up on the township website, telling residents in bold type that because of budget cuts, we wouldn't be able to don our water wings until June 24. And when the pools do finally open, the hours will be shorter. I was stunned.

Swimming pool closed

As I sat on my lawn last weekend, sweltering as temperatures crept close to 90 degrees, I couldn't help but feel cheated. My son wondered why we couldn't go to the pool. I wondered how much more of this we were supposed to take. First, the state decimated our school budget. Then the town shut our neighborhood library six days a week. And now we've lost the best way to stay cool on a hot June afternoon.

We're not alone. Cities and towns across the country are closing and reducing hours at their public pools and parks to deal with budget shortfalls. Even though recreation only makes up about two percent of city and town budgets (according to USA Today), parks get hit hard when the going gets tough.

A local blogger asked readers if they'd consider joining a private pool club instead, where membership costs anywhere from $1,200 to $10,000. This misses the point. Public pools are meant to be accessible to the public -- even members of the public who can't shell out 10 grand for a dip in cold water.

The battle to provide public access to recreation and the outdoors was hard-fought and took years to achieve. It wasn't until Franklin Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression that Americans began to see state, county and city parks crop up in their communities in large numbers.

It's ironic that during the Great Recession, these amenities are beginning to slip away. A New York Times editorial pointed out that a shut park isn't merely closed; it's also left open to vandals, and its buildings and paths are left to fall into disrepair. The National Trust for Historic Preservation went so far as to add all of our state parks and state-owned historic sites to its list of America's most endangered historic places. Our parks are part of our culture and our public pools are a place where people, regardless of income, can gather to find relief from the sweltering heat.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of playing with my brother and sisters at the public pool in the summertime. It's sad that my son will have a month less of summer to do that. I can only hope that towns begin to put more value on the amenities that make communities vibrant and livable and reopen our parks and pools soon.

next: Why I'm Not Inviting Your Kid Back on a Playdate
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kristen June 8, 2010, 5:41 AM

So does that mean your going to shell out the money for the pool to be open? Where do you expect the money to come from? Oh I know, lets cut the police force, or maybe social workers. Every time a politician calls for a tax cut and it goes to a vote things like this happen. It’s sad, the last time this happened in my home town my parents only saved $36 a YEAR but the town pool was closed, teachers were cut and the police force had layoffs. Wow, I’ll give the $36 a year for that not to happen.

Manuela H June 8, 2010, 9:54 AM

In my area there is a charge for the public pool along with the larger parks and recreation facilities. The smaller parks are on town hall land and are maintained as part of the town hall property. Very few parks that are “free standing” that can be ignored by the towns. There’s still too much wasteful spending by the government and it seems if you don’t let them waste as much as they want, they cut services to those footing the bill. What nerve.

Matt June 8, 2010, 11:38 AM

You are so clearly misinformed it is not even funny. I am 16, and a sophomore at a high school in NJ. First, Christie is giving what he can with what he has, it is the school board, not the government. As Kristen stated, would you rather they cut from something actually important? Stop being so self centered. You do live in Jersey why not go to the beach for the day or the weekend?

XXXX June 8, 2010, 3:08 PM

maybe someone pooped in it

Cheryl Lascheid June 15, 2010, 5:27 AM

Our pool faced similar situation. However, our town recognized our pool as a gem and instead of filling it in or closing it, we got grants and funding and painted it, got bathrooms people would actually use, a slide and a whole new attitude. It is so packed now, I wait to take my daughter until later in the afternoon. Yep, paint and a slide did all that! Swim lessons are even free to town people from a grant! Alden, Iowa… best town by a dam site.

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