The pool at McAdams Park in northeast Wichita will close immediately and be replaced with a smaller “splash park” two years from now, despite opposition from African-American community elders.
The McAdams closure was included in a pool master plan adopted by the Wichita City Council on Tuesday.
The plan will close six of nine operating public pools by 2023, leaving College Hill, Harvest Park and Aley Park as the three remaining pools.
McAdams, Boston, Evergreen, Linwood and Orchard park pools will all be closed by 2021, with the pools replaced by splash pads. Minisa Park will lose its pool in favor of an “other amenity” yet to be defined, city documents show.
Edgemoor Park, where the pool is already closed, will also get a splash park, as will Harrison and Planeview parks, which have no water features now.
Splash parks are primarily designed as children’s play areas and are not deep enough for swimming.
They do not require lifeguards or staffing beyond routine maintenance and twice-daily testing for chlorine content of the water. As a result, they can be open 11 hours a day for 18 to 20 weeks a year, Parks and Recreation director Troy Houtman said.
It costs about $25,000 to $30,000 a year to operate a splash park, compared with $50,000 to $60,000 to operate a swimming pool for fewer hours a day and fewer days a year, Houtman said.
Houtman said the city is also working on a deal to use city funds to subsidize swimming opportunities at YMCA pools for about 1,000 youths.
The decision to shut down McAdams pool did not sit well with representatives of the African-American Council of Elders, an advisory group that is active there.
The group said taking away the pool would further harm a neighborhood that has been neglected by city economic development and amenities efforts.
“When you talk about community development, when you talk about neighborhood development, you’re talking about a neighborhood that’s been completely ignored,” said Wakeelah Martinez, administrator of the Council of Elders. “And people have moved out.
“And so when you take the things like this pool away from these types of neighborhoods ... then you’re talking about: Who wants to come back to a neighborhood where the schools have gone, cultural aspects of performance and arts have gone, and now the pool that our children could walk to is now gone?”
The elders also were frustrated to find out Tuesday that the McAdams pool will be closed starting with this year’s swimming season, rather than in 2019, as originally planned.
During the meeting, officials said the splash park wouldn’t open until 2020, a three-year hiatus. But after the meeting, Houtman clarified that the department is planning to have the splash park open by the summer of 2019.
He said the gap in service is regrettable but necessary. The department has to cut its aquatics operating budget by $40,000 this year, and the McAdams pool is the least used, despite community and city efforts to promote it and increase its use, he said.
The master plan also was opposed by adults and children from the College Hill neighborhood. Although they’re keeping their pool, they’re worried that it will become overcrowded because of the lack of pools elsewhere.
They preferred an option that would have kept five pools open.
“We can’t take any more people,” said Charlie Young, president of the College Hill Pool Association. “We’re about ready to burst.”
Council member Bryan Frye, who proposed the plan adopted by the council, said the pools that are being closed are outdated and that splash parks will allow more places to cool off from the summer heat.
Frye said he grew up swimming in Boston and Edgemoor pools and had many fond memories there, but when he toured the pools as a Park Board member in 2011, “they were nothing like I remember.”
Also, the city faces increased competition for recreational consumers from the YMCA, trampoline parks, skateboard parks, League 42 youth baseball, indoor sports forums and the Rock River Rapids water park in Derby, he said.
“Our pools are old, tired and worn out,” he said. “Modern pool design has provided water playgrounds with lots of amenities that keep swimmers entertained and keep them coming back for more.”
Frye said he’s “hopeful that today’s action is only one phase of a longer-term aquatics master plan that will continue to evolve and adapt to our community’s needs and desires and that eventually we will be in a position to add even more new modern pools, better than what we have now.”
His plan passed 4-2, with council members Lavonta Williams and Janet Miller dissenting and council member Jeff Blubaugh absent.
Miller and Williams said they think the Frye plan raises serious concerns about equity because higher-income neighborhoods have many more options for swimming than low-income areas.
Miller proposed an alternative that would have kept College Hill and four other pools open, with the four to be the ones in the most impoverished parts of the city.
That plan died on the same 4-2 vote that approved Frye’s proposal.