Archive for Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Shouts and Murmurs: Pondering the future of city pool

July 5, 2006

Better look fast.

The Chief Tonganoxie Swimming Pool eventually may be a thing of the past.

Around here, everyone and their grandparents and great-grandparents learned to swim in the Tonganoxie city pool, built in the late 1920s.

But the old swimming hole is expensive to maintain.

It's estimated that needed repairs -- installation of a new pool lining and upgrades to the plumbing and pump house -- could cost as much as $250,000. Lloyd Wisdom, who manages the city's water operations, said it's possible those repairs could extend the life of the pool another 15 years.

But clearly, if that $250,000 were applied to a new pool, or aqua center, as in nearby cities, it would make a dent toward the cost of construction.

At last week's city council meeting, council members authorized City Administrator Mike Yanez to spend up to $7,000 for a conceptual design of a new pool.

Council members have expressed the desire for citizens to vote on whether the city will build a new pool.

If the pool is replaced -- if the city voters choose to replace it -- its shape will be remembered as unique. It's not round, square or rectangular. It would be rare to find a pool like it in any other municipality. And though it might be difficult to prove, there are some local residents who claim the Tonganoxie swimming pool is the oldest public pool west of the Mississippi.

My memories of the pool are like those of many others. Playing under the cast iron pipes that shot water onto our heads; kids doing cannonballs or diving off the diving boards, now replaced by slides, having tea parties underwater; and rescuing the elusive June bugs from the inside-the-pool gutter that took the overflow.

Stretching sheets of taffy warmed by the sun and stuffing globs of it into our mouths. Fudgesicles, frozen Zero bars, lifeguards sauntering, toddlers tottering. Splashing in the baby pool. Cool mornings of swimming lessons.

And, of course, one of the major coups of childhood -- swimming non-stop across the pool so that you're allowed to go in the deep end.

The first swim of summer.

The last swim of summer.

Things haven't changed that much at Tonganoxie's pool in the 80 years since it was built. Despite all the new ways to entertain kids, one thing's clear. There's no replacement for summer swimming -- especially at a public pool where there are so many other children with whom to play.

One of these days, I suppose, we'll have to face the facts. Our pool is 80 years old. And, according to Yanez, it is expensive to maintain.

Yanez said it's simply a matter of "either putting good money into a good pool or putting good money into a bad pool that could fail any day."

Yanez, who will meet next week with pool consultants, said he hopes soon to have a conceptual design for a new pool. One that soon could be presented to voters. Yanez said the best way to pay for a new pool would be through a half-cent, or quarter-cent sales tax. A pool's price could range, he said, from about $2 million up to $6 million, depending on what voters want. And, Yanez said, if voters approve a new pool, it likely would be built at the site of the existing pool.

A new pool would be handicapped accessible, Yanez said, and would have features for children as well as for adults. It's possible, he said, the pool could have swim lanes for lap swimmers. And, he said, there could be shade structures over areas of the pool deck.

Yanez said he'd like to put the pool question to a vote during the Nov. 7 general election.

As a rural Tonganoxie resident, I won't get to vote on the pool. But, if it's funded by sales tax, I, and everyone else who shops and eats out in Tonganoxie, will be helping to pay for it.

Sentimentally wise, there's no pool like the old pool.

But an attractive aqua center, with a zero-gravity entrance pool, fountains and water play structures, would be an appropriate and attractive replacement.

To our city council, here's my request: If we have to take out the old pool and replace it with a new one, please do us young-timers and old-timers alike a favor.

Make it a good one.

For nearly 80 years, Tonganoxie has had one of the best swimming pools around.

Let's keep that tradition going.

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