Smile Politely

Spalding Pool: The north side of Champaign also gets hot

When I moved back to C-U just about a year ago, I moved into my mother’s house. It was, overall, a pretty successful venture: save up money, find a place, move out. My mom’s place didn’t have any air conditioning, and the room I was in had only one 12” x 20” window. It was crazy hot last summer, and I was getting heat cranky pretty often. One June day last summer, I suddenly (and ingeniously) realized that my Mom lives only three blocks from Spalding Park, and, therefore, three blocks from Spalding Pool! I grabbed a towel, put on my trunks and flip flops, and walked across the tracks.

But almost instantly, I realized that I wasn’t hearing the usual “distant FM radio sounds” that I grew up hearing from the pool’s speakers. I also quickly realized that no one was at the pool. I figured that I must have forgotten pool hours or something, so I walked up to entrance of the pool, only to see a sign that read, “Pool Closed.” Closed for repairs? Closed because they are building a new pool? Closed because no one wants to go swimming in the summer on the north end of town? I thought about going to Sholem, but wasn’t into the long trek across town just to take a quick dip to cool down.

I never thought to call the Champaign Park District to ask what the deal was with Champaign’s oldest pool; I just accepted that they probably had some project planned for a new pool. For the rest of last summer, I would ride by the pool and wait for signs of something. The “Pool Closed” sign was now very large and placed on the western fence of the pool’s perimeter. I did hear that Sholem had undergone a massive upgrade, and was now super awesome with lots of amenities. I also heard from a lot of friends that went swimming there, (solo folks, and folks with children) that the whole summer fun experience was just too crowded.

A couple of weeks ago, I rode my bike over to Spalding Park to have a look at the pool. Something was happening, a big dig of some kind. A full remodel was my hope. I went to the Champaign Park District’s website to try to find some information about what was going on at Spalding Pool. The Pool still had a page, but the information I read made me wonder why:

5/13 – Spalding has been demolished. Future plans for the land are being determined.

Per Board action on January 11, 2012 Spalding Pool will not open in the foreseable [sic] future.

The page also has a link to a News-Gazette article about the pool’s closing. The highlight of that article is a quote from the Champaign Park District’s Executive Director, Bobbie Herokavich: “[T]he board realized that the pool had reached the end of its useable [sic] life.” That’s kind of a nice way to say that Spalding Pool is dead.

“Spalding… You’ll get nothing and like it”~~ Ted Knight, Caddyshack

I called the Champaign Park District’s general information line to ask about the pool’s closing. I was told that it was closed with no foreseeable plans to reopen. I asked if there was someone I could talk to about why the pool had closed, and was told that someone would be calling me shortly. Laura Auteberry, The Marketing and Development Director of the Champaign Park District, called me back. She was super nice, and not at all dodgy. I asked her what the general reason was behind closing the pool, and she basically told me that “nobody went” during the open swims; the pool was underutilized by the surrounding community, so much so that they would close early sometimes because they would have a fully-staffed pool for a very small amount of people. There were also costly repairs that were happening more and more frequently with the pool. For example, the pool leaked, and this needed to be dealt with if it was going to have a chance. The cost to fix a major leak in a 46-year-old pool that “people just didn’t use” was pretty much the nail in Spalding Pool’s coffin. RIP Spalding Pool.

Wait … that can’t be the end can it? I asked Laura if there were any plans to build a new pool in Spalding Park. She said that they were “assessing the situation, and they reserve the right to build another one if need be.” When I asked for some specific factors that they were assessing, she answered that Champaign Park District would evaluate the swimming needs of the Champaign residents after Crystal Lake Pool reopens (June 20, if construction is concluded by then) to see if the needs of the community would be met by having a second swimming pool option. Apparently, if there seems to be a need, they might build another pool. I wonder how they would know if there is a need? Do any Champaign Park District board members live around Spalding Park?

I hung out at the skate park a couple times over the last month to ask kids if they used to go swimming at Spalding and whether they would go swimming there if a new pool was opened. Small sample, I know, but they all said yes. “As hot as it is, of course I would,” said one preteen kiddo. Another kid said it cost too much when it was open and that’s why he and his sisters couldn’t ever go. I don’t know how much it used to cost to get into Spalding when it was last open, and I spaced on asking an actual Park District person, but if it was anything near the current rates for Sholem

I could see that being a bit high for this lower-income side of town. I’m old … it used to cost $1 to go to Sholem and Spalding when I was a kid, and I rocked both pools, depending on where we lived, all day, all summer. Mom giving us five bucks for five days of swimming was well worth the money to her, I’m sure, but $6 for five days of swimming is $30 a week. If you have more than one child — let’s just say three — that’s $90 a week. So, yeah, I can totally see why the pool was underutilized. Pool Passes are the way to go, but unless there is some kind of layaway system, poor folks don’t have that upfront cost.

Again, I don’t know the exact cost to go to Spalding before it closed, so it’s possible that these numbers might shift a bit. And I do know that you can’t just give people things, and that certain things have to make economic sense. But I’m sure that something could have been done to get local kids in the pool. For example, I sold candy bars through a program that the Park District had set up in order to pay for a couple seasons of my little league baseball because we couldn’t afford the sign up cost. Something, likely, could have been done.

While searching out any existing articles related to Spalding Pool, I came across a recent article by Jeff Bossert for In that article, Champaign’s NAACP President, Patricia Avery, said:

We need to have more places for our kids to go, not less. And when we take away these resources, it just forces them to try to find something else to do somewhere else. And getting there is a problem for a lot of these kids.

True that!

For the record, The Champaign Park District has always been the bee’s knees in my book. I grew up in those pools, played farm league, little league, pony league, and colt league baseball for years. I roller skated, ping-ponged, took karate, and played basketball at the Bicentennial Center. I am positive that these activities were vital in keeping me out of trouble as a kid, as well as teaching me crazy amounts of teamwork and social skills. I was just a bit stunned about the closing of Spalding Pool. I mean, couple that with the location of the new, amazing YMCA and you can see why some folks feel like the City of Champaign is forgetting about its children. Us north-siders can use these facilities; it’s just getting there for some folks that might be the problem. No more walking or riding your bike over to the local pool for a lot of kids in Central/North Champaign this summer. Now, just close your eyes and think about how nice it feels to slip into a cool pool on a hot day. Yeah … that.

Who knows? Maybe after some assessing of the swimming needs of its residents over the summer, the Champaign Park District might decide to build another Spalding Pool. If you would like to know how things are going with the ongoing assessing, you can email the Marketing and Development Department of the Champaign Park District.

Now cool out to this…

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