By Jim McCloskey
Something has been nagging at the edges of my consciousness for a while now, and I think it’s high time to write about it.
One of my duties for the past several years has been to roam the Internet to find stories related to pools and all sorts of other watershapes and decide whether a given item merits your attention. From the start, I noticed but did not share a whole class of items related to the construction of new municipal pools, my thought being that such stories were inherently too local in nature – so I saw them and quickly moved on.
But something about these items kept catching my eye, right from the start: The construction budgets for these pools were generally enormous – $10 million and up – even for projects in small towns and suburbs around the country. Many were being built, which was great, but the volumes of money involved still gave me pause.
Apparently those costs were giving other people pause as well – and those folks were far more important than I: Almost as often as I saw a report on a planned or newly completed pool, I saw another one in which a pool had been sidetracked or cancelled because the projected costs were perceived to be running out of sight, in many cases to nosebleed heights.
Without anything more than mild curiosity at first, I started looking a bit more closely, and it was soon clear that a lot of these “pool projects” involved much more than a swimmin’ hole: Both those that were being built and those that ended up on the shelf were quite elaborate. Indeed, these “aquatic centers” bore more than a superficial resemblance to waterparks, with all manner of splash areas, spray features and other interactive resources. (Rock-climbing walls over water are apparently popular these days.)
This is all fine and dandy. On balance, the companies involved in municipal pools are probably doing well because the projects they sign onto as designers, engineers, builders and suppliers are intricate and remunerative on all levels. And I’m not criticizing municipalities or, indeed, anyone else here, but I have to ask: Is the general good being well served by the way things are going?
I’ve written before of my childhood involvement with municipal swimming pools, but so far it’s only been about learning to swim, gaining competency and taking my skills out into the wider world of lakes and oceans and the narrower one of suburban backyards. To date, however, I’ve never written about what those public pools were like, basically because it never seemed important – until now, that is, with this newly emerging question about the general welfare blazing a trail through my thoughts.
I have to ask: Wouldn’t we be better off, as a society and an industry, if many more pools were being built, thereby exposing many more people to the joys of involvement with water and, in a sense, democratizing the experience and creating future generations of consumers who value swimming pools, spas and other waterfeatures for the benefits they bring with them?
The indoor pool I swam in as a guppy and then a minnow and finally as a flying fish was a modest, frill-free affair that was packed with children most days of the week during the summer. Even more modest (and a bit farther away) was the outdoor pool complex that was sort of our “graduate school” as student swimmers: It had a functional but unlovely 30-foot tower over a small diving pool, right alongside a similarly functional (and similarly plain) Olympic-size pool for lap swimming.
I haven’t been able to find out when these pools were built, but I suspect both were products of the 1930s, basically because they seemed so old to me even in the very early 1960s. They were direct and serviceable – and they brought hundreds if not thousands of kids into the fold of swimming-capable people without fanfare, interactivity or a climbing wall. And my guess is that they didn’t cost the 1936 equivalent of $10 million.
Again I ask: Is the general good being well served by the way things are going? This is a question I’ll be exploring in this space from time to time in the weeks and months to come.