News: Neighbors Continue Plea for Pool

Last hope at Washington Park is with city officials

Dec 5, 2007 at 2:06 pm
Graham Lienhart

A group of Over-the-Rhine residents were disappointed but not surprised to see a basketball court and deep-water swimming pool excluded from plans for the renovation of Washington Park, unveiled at a public hearing last week.

Some neighbors said that despite apparently differing agendas between themselves and planners, they left the meeting with a new sense of aim: swaying the Cincinnati Recreation Commission and the Cincinnati Park Board. The residents said they had previously been focused on engaging Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC), which will oversee the development.

Leaders of a group that wants the swimming pool and basketball court said 3CDC has the clout to get their requests included.

"If 3CDC would speak out and say that we want the pool here, I'd think we'd have it," said Bonnie Neumeier, a longtime resident of Over-the-Rhine.

Several at the meeting recognized her as a spokeswoman for the residents.

Some in the audience focused on the cost-effectiveness of continuing to host a pool. But Stephen Leeper, president of 3CDC, said later that speculation about money was misplaced at this point.

More than 150 people filled part of Memorial Hall for the Nov. 27 meeting, which promised to be contentious from the start.

A mass walkout had been planned in support of an alternative plan that would include a pool and basketball court. But despite persistent and often bitter dialogue, there was no organized exodus. The meeting stretched three hours into the evening.

Steve Schuckman, superintendent of the city parks department, and Chris Manning of Human Nature Inc., a local planning and design firm, said preliminary plans would "preserve the pastoral character" of the park. They include:

´ a civic green opposite Elm Street in front of Music Hall, described as a "grand gesture" to the auditorium,

´ interactive water fixtures,

´ extension of the park northward in an effort to "reconnect with Findlay Market,"

´ accommodations for public transit,

´ two dog parks — one for larger dogs and one for smaller dogs,

´ a playground with game tables including checkers and chess boards and

´ inclusion of "sister structures" that fit with the character of the neighborhood.

Schuckman and Manning said the play fountain, featuring a "zero depth spray-ground," carried no chance of drowning. Consistency with the recreation commission's direction of consolidating pools in Over-the-Rhine, which currently hosts three pools, also was cause for exclusion of a pool in Washington Park, Schuckman said.

"Surely we can design the park (so) that the pool stays," Schuckman said. "But we're looking at the most responsible, best way we can economically afford."

The elimination the pool and basketball court show that those planning the park redevelopment don't want people with kids, according to Brian Garry, a local activist and former candidate for city council. Instead, he said, the desire is to attract "young, rich people".

"We're losing our families, we're losing our schools," he said. "What are we doing here? Are we trying to eliminate a certain type of person?"

Charles Downton of the OTR Coalition said a pool is key to keeping kids in line in the neighborhood.

"(Swimming) keeps kids clean, and it keeps them tired," he said.

At least one participant wasn't in favor of a pool's future inclusion. Smith Hammelrath, a longtime Over-the-Rhine booster, said that the meeting reduced itself to a familiar premise.

"It is always rich against poor," he said about the protesters. "It has nothing to do with making it a neighborhood again."

Pools are more conducive to diversity and community interaction, but they're attractive to youngsters, according to one expert, Jeff Wiltse, author of Contested Waters: a Social History of Swimming Pools in America. His research indicated that deep-water pools were mostly appealing to adults, Wiltse said in a phone interview. Children and adolescents are more attracted to aquatic play facilities, such as those presented in renovation plans, he said.

"Pools are better for community space," Wiltse said. "They help foster meaningful and sustained interaction."

He went on to say that interaction at aquatic play facilities tended to exist between the person and the apparatus.

A group of students at the Miami University Center for Community Engagement ion Over-the-Rhine presented an alternative plan that they designed; it includes a pool and basketball court. The students' plan was described as having children 10-15 years old particularly in mind.

Louise Mettler, one of the students, presented Schuckman with 400 signatures on petitions opposing the closing of the pool. Various community council meetings have shown the neighborhood wants the pool, she said.

"It was apparent that the closing of the pool would be detrimental," Mettler said.

Bonnie Neumeier argues for keeping a pool in Washington Park.