Speakers had 90 minutes of opinions at Tuesday’s Wichita City Council meeting about re-opening the swimming pool at McAdams Park.
One didn’t think it was a good idea.
A display of support so strong that one council member said it was the largest turnout he could remember in seven years at the bench was still temporarily passed over — a disappointing move that can be explained away as fiscally prudent by the Council but also a vote of no confidence in a northeast Wichita community.
The Council voted 4-3 not to re-open McAdams’ pool, which is closed for a second summer, but also asked city staff to return with further study on the financial prospects of the pool’s success.
It wasn’t the Council’s best morning. Council member Jeff Blubaugh moved to put all $4 million allocated for a 2023 pool back into the city’s capital improvement program. Mayor Jeff Longwell chided staff for delivering an either-or — McAdams vs. Edgemoor parks — rather than a specific recommendation of one site.
Council member Brandon Johnson, who recommended the McAdams pool for his district, made a detailed plea for low-income children needing access to a pool. It fell a vote short.
The Council’s fiscal conservatives prefer to look at the bottom line, and that’s understandable. McAdams’ pool closed because few Wichitans were using it, and there’s no guarantee it’s going to be any better while the city goes through a projected budget deficit of $1.7 million in 2019, growing three-fold by 2022.
But McAdams Park is attempting a rebirth. It’s already there in many ways — much of it with the city’s help.
League 42, a nonprofit youth baseball league that’s home to 600 players who otherwise couldn’t afford to play, is in the homestretch of its fifth season with $1.4 million in field improvements and fan amenities from the city.
A well-used recreation center, Barry Sanders football field and a baseball diamond worthy of high school games are also pluses for the park.
The minuses are obvious for the half-mile long, three-block wide park. Industrial development and I-135 border three sides. The Canal Route makes McAdams seem walled off from much of the community it serves.
Pool numbers don’t agree with McAdams supporters, either. While it’s clear that McAdams would serve more low-income families, the pool has struggled to attract swimmers and, from 2001 to 2010, recovered less than one dollar for every five spent on it.
So it’s curious that the Park and Recreation Department didn’t deliver a specific recommendation, instead stepping aside for Johnson’s preference. Could it be city staff thinks McAdams isn’t the right choice?
If so, they’re wrong.
This isn’t about the past. Putting a pool anywhere else is a sign to McAdams-area residents that the Council is willing to ignore a signal of support from a community with a large number of at-risk children. Not going through with opening a fourth city pool would be even worse.
As council member James Clendenin noted, “There’s a huge cost in not making investments in areas of poverty.”
Faith in a community didn’t win Tuesday. But it’s not dead.