By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,
Summer 2023 has been a scorcher for residents affected by pool closures in Baltimore City.
At an Aug. 23 Public Safety and Government Operations Committee hearing, led by Councilman Zeke Cohen (D-District 1), city officials called into question the Baltimore City Recreation and Park’s (BCRP) handling of the pool closures, taking a deeper look at their procurement process and communication methods.
“Whenever there are challenges with public agencies, it’s really important that the city council exercises its accountability function, and works with agency staff to make improvements,” said Cohen told the AFRO. “What I heard today specifically was a commitment to improving communications from the Department of Recreation and Parks.”
Reginald Moore, executive director of BCRP, said that his team will work on internal communications to ensure that the office of communications directly informs the community about pool closures.
“One of the suggestions we brought up was to have a multilingual text option where rec and park could directly connect with communities,” said Cohen. “We’ve done that in a public health context with our health department, so I hope to see that enacted in the future.”
Cohen said he’s expecting improved communication and a finished Patterson Park Pool by the summer of 2024.
Mayor Brandon M. Scott explained to residents in July the reason for the prolonged closure, naming heavy rains, flooding and the 70-year-old infrastructure of Patterson Park Pool as reasons for the shut down, which began last summer. Scott has said that the pool will remain indefinitely closed until a full renovation is completed.
“The pool flooded on three separate occasions since May, causing damage to the pool motor. Patterson Park Pool needs to remain closed for the summer to holistically address the necessary repairs,” said the Office of the Mayor in an emailed statement.
Though renovation plans are moving forward, Patterson Park community legislators and Scott’s administration have been at odds about how to best deal with the pool renovation.
“Since I was elected in 2016, I have been advocating for the renovation of the Patterson Park Pool,” said Cohen. “In fiscal year 2022, Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-MD-46), Delegate Luke Clippinger (D-MD-46), Delegate Robbyn T. Lewis (D-MD-46) and Delegate Mark Edelson (D-MD-46) and I were able to get $3.5 million in state funds to completely renovate and rebuild Patterson Park Pool.”
Cohen said the renovation did not take place in Fiscal Year 2022 due to the city not being able to secure a contractor for the job.
“With the ‘46 delegation’ we asked rec and park to essentially do some stop-gap measures
] to try and get it open just for the summer and then get the long-term renovation work done, which they did try to do,” said Cohen. “The issues were too great for them to get it done.”
In the July press conference, Scott said “We were scheduled to break ground on a new Patterson Park pool, but the council member and community asked that we make stop-gap repairs and attempt to keep the pool open this summer instead of just closing it for renovation in despite my concerns that we would end up where we are today. This pool was always meant to close for renovation.”
Just two hours after the informational hearing on Aug. 23, local legislators and community members gathered outside the Patterson Park Pool area to enjoy a newly funded pop-up splash pad, pizza and ice cream.
“The community came together with my office and Lewis and said ‘we understand the pool is not going to be open, but let’s get something in the interim,’” said Cohen.
Over $15,000 was raised for the splash pad according to Cohen. Even though the splash pad was welcomed, community members know it doesn’t really fix the problem.
“We all recognize that
[the splash pad
] is only a substitute. The water sprinklers are designed for children, not teenagers and adults,” said Ernest Lee, president of the Patterson Park Neighborhood Association at the hearing.
Children of all ages were enjoying the pop up sprinklers, many laughing and jumping in puddles.
The free splash pad will be available on Sundays from 1-4 p.m. and on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3-6 p.m. It will be open on Labor Day from 1-4 p.m. Maggie Master, Cohen’s Chief of Staff, said the splash pad will be available through Sept. 17, operating on Saturdays and Sundays – if they get approved by rec and parks.
The sprinklers will be donated to BCRP for citywide use after it shuts down for the season, according to Cohen’s team.
Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.
This article originally stated that the temporary splash pad sprinklers were going to be donated to the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (BCDOT) after it closes for the season, but has been corrected to say Baltimore City Recreation and Parks (BCRP) will receive the sprinklers.