On a sweltering summer day last week, mothers toted canvas bags into the McAdams swimming pool area.
Bronzed lifeguards sat under the shade of umbrellas, and children flocked to the pool’s edge, impatiently waiting for the OK to jump in. At least 60 others were already splashing and swimming.
It wasn’t like this last summer.
On average, two McAdams neighborhood residents visited the city-owned pool each day last summer, said Brian Hill, director of aquatics and of O.J. Watson Park. Daily attendance was more than two people, but that’s in part because the city funneled large groups of people from outside the neighborhood to the pool in order to justify keeping it open.
Despite the effort, McAdams has recorded the lowest attendance of all nine of the city pools for the past four summers.
The Wichita City Council is considering a multimillion-dollar project that puts all of the city’s pools in danger of being drained, Hill said.
“They’re all threatened,” he said. “They’re all under consideration. They all have the same chance of staying open or being closed.”
Some McAdams residents said they think boosting the pool’s attendance could help keep it open.
“Every neighborhood needs a pool,” said Janet Radig, a pastor at Ninth Street Church of God.
At a District One breakfast meeting last summer, Radig heard that the pool she spent her summers in as a child was at risk of closing. She took action, buying 200 pool tickets and passing them out door-to-door.
This summer, Radig and members of her parish purchased more than 1,600 tickets. They changed their strategy by publishing in the neighborhood newsletter that residents can walk right to the pool. Radig dropped off the tickets in advance, so there’s nothing to keep track of.
And it’s working.
Janice Moore, a McAdams resident, said she has brought her six grandchildren to the pool almost every day since she heard about the free admission.
“It keeps them out of trouble, it keeps them active, and it keeps them cool,” she said as she wiped her brow on the 100-degree day.
“The community pulled together to help bring kids to this pool,” Hill said. “It’s been good to see the attendance jump immensely.”
Almost 1,700 people visited McAdams last month. That’s more than 70 percent of last summer’s total attendance, a sign that this year’s numbers will be better than last year’s, Hill said.
McAdams still drew far fewer swimmers than other city pools last month. College Hill recorded more than 7,200 people, and Harvest had almost 6,900. The second-lowest-attended pool last month was Boston, with 2,400 visitors.
Because of city budget constraints, the pools have limited hours – 1 to 6 p.m. – that aren’t always conducive for working parents.
This year’s aquatics budget, about $350,000, must cover all operational expenses as well as the salaries of nine pool managers and 75 lifeguards, Hill said.
The City Council is considering designating $18 million to the Wichita Parks and Recreation Department for aquatic-related capital improvements from 2017 to 2019. If approved, the council must determine whether to repair current pools, close some or replace them with splash pads or a central indoor pool.
This week, a steering committee of 20 Wichita residents will dive into this summer’s data and surveys to determine what recommendation will be presented to the council.
Repairing the pools is a temporary solution for many of the city’s decades-old pools, Hill said. McAdams was built in 1969.
A more sustainable option is the construction of a central indoor pool, and McAdams is near one of the many proposed sites. If the city chooses this option, it’s likely the neighborhood would lose its pool to make way for something residents across the city would use, Hill said.
But just in case McAdams needs to provide swimmers with another summer of relief from the heat, Radig is ready.
“We’ve already started raising money for next summer,” she said.
Reach Kelly Meyerhofer at 316-268-6357 or email@example.com.