About 150 residents — mostly black — left City Hall in frustration Tuesday after the Wichita City Council voted to put off a decision on where to put a new swimming pool in northeast Wichita.
The decision to delay came after a three-hour debate that brought dozens of residents to the podium supporting McAdams Park — not Edgemoor Park — as the site where they want a new pool to be built.
The city closed the McAdams pool early last year and plans to close five other public pools by 2023. That would leave three pools open, plus a new pool, location to be determined. The Edgemoor pool closed several years ago because of structural problems.
Members of the audience spoke for nearly two hours, at five minutes each.
Some fought back tears as they talked of the need for a pool in McAdams Park, serving a low-income area west of the I-135 freeway around 13th Street.
Armando Minjarez said the McAdams neighborhood has been neglected due to decades of racism.
“This is really about the legacy of systemic policies and actions against people of color in Wichita,” Minjarez said.
Tye McEwen said she also thought race was a factor in the council’s hesitation to put the pool in the McAdams neighborhood.
“This has absolutely everything to do about race,” McEwen said. “Let’s keep it honest, it’s because it’s for black people.”
In 2016, the neighborhood lost a QuikTrip store and a Walmart neighborhood market, both at 13th and Oliver.
“Haven't we lost enough?” McEwen said. “There's no Walmart, almost no gas stations, almost no grocery stores, the pools is gone, the parks is run down.”
“Our side of the town has been disappearing,” said Candice Reed, a resident of the McAdams neighborhood. “The stuff that we do have, it gets taken away and we get told ‘Deal with it.' Why do we have to beg for what we need?”
Monica Givens, a teacher at Wilbur Middle School, said that the lack of investment in that part of town is apparent in the classroom.
“I see it firsthand where the lack of resources in the community will manifest itself in my classroom,” she said. “It’s not fun to stop teaching to have to deal with areas related to mental illness, anxiety, behaviors I get.
“The kids are suffering. Us teachers see it. Invest in our kids.”
More than 40 percent of residents of the McAdams neighborhood live below the poverty line.
Council member James Clendenin said it’s important to invest in impoverished parts of town “to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble.”
“I can't remember a single issue that has brought out the public as much as this issue, in seven years on the council,” Clendenin said.
“Our city is only as good as the least-performing district,” he said. “I don't know how we can not decide to put the pool in McAdams.”
Charlie Young, representing the College Hill Neighborhood Association, was the only person to speak during the public comments in favor of building the pool at the Edgemoor Park.
“All these people that were here were not at the pool,” Young said. “They don’t swim.”
Facing heavy pushback over closing the McAdams pool, the council voted in August to allocate $4 million for a new pool serving northeast Wichita.
But Mayor Jeff Longwell recommended postponing the selection of a location for the pool indefinitely.
“I'm not ready to support yet,” Longwell said. “We're in worse financial shape today than we were two years ago . . . I'm not willing to take a $4 million gamble.”
Council member Brandon Johnson, who represents northeast Wichita, said delaying the vote won’t change the outcome.
He recommended that the council choose the McAdams neighborhood as the site for the new pool.
“The community is still going to want the water park in McAdams,” Johnson said. “I think that the information we have right now currently supports McAdams."
Johnson said that the potential for a new, renovated pool in the McAdams neighborhood was a source of hope.
“To me, it's more than a $4 million investment,” Johnson said. “It's opportunity and access. And for folks to be able to say, 'That brand-new water park is down the street from me, and we're poor.'
"And they can go to it. Rather than, 'Oh man, I hope I can save up enough money and catch the bus over to Edgemoor.'”