Scotlandville residents plead to keep pool open

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- An artist's rendering of a splash pad that would replace a swimming pool at BREC's Anna T. Jordan Community Park in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNON -- An artist's rendering of a splash pad that would replace a swimming pool at BREC's Anna T. Jordan Community Park in Baton Rouge.

Approximately 70-80 people crowded a meeting room at Anna T. Jordan Community Park in Scotlandville Thursday night, many to plead with BREC not to close the park’s swimming pool.

The East Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission organized the three-hour, open-house-style meeting to solicit community input on whether to renovate the half-century-old pool or to shutter it and put in a splash pad.

For many of the residents, the pool occupies a special place in the life of the Scotlandville community.

“I started coming before the park was even here,” Roy Bowie said. “I have been in (the pool) many times.”

Bowie said his son also swam in the pool.

Several residents argued that replacing the existing pool with a splash pad would remove a crucial educational opportunity for area children.

“The skills you learn from a splash pad won’t do them any good,” said Chauna Banks-Daniel, who represents Scotlandville on the East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Council.

Banks-Daniel argued that children from the area lack access to other pool facilities.

One resident vowed to “lead the charge” in the fight against BREC if the pool is closed.

“I have a problem with you even asking the question,” Carl Slaughter said. “We want both — we want the pool and splash pads all over north Baton Rouge.”

Slaughter objected to BREC handing out surveys about the issue to children who came to the open house.

“We are the ones who pay taxes,” he said. “It’s an adult decision.”

BREC, which permanently closed the Webb Park and Jefferson Highway Park pools last year after holding similar, though less well-attended meetings, argues that the public pools are expensive to maintain and underused.

Anna T. Jordan’s pool, which was built in the 1950s, is leaking water and the cast-iron pipes used in its construction are corroding, said Brett Weinberger, who oversees BREC’s aquatics program.

Additionally, the pool was open only eight weeks last summer, in contrast to the park system’s splash pads, which are open from March until October.

Anna T. Jordan’s pool won’t be open at all in 2013, regardless of whether BREC decides to demolish or renovate it, Weinberger said.

If it is renovated, he said, BREC will replace the current variable-depth, trapezoid-shaped pool with a smaller, uniform-depth rectangular pool suitable for swimming lessons and water exercises.

The renovations would cost about $350,000, about the same as it would cost to put in a splash pad, BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack said.

BREC, which once had seven pools and this year will have only three, has said attendance at the pools doesn’t justify the cost of operating them.

“Anna T. Jordan averages approximately 10-15 people for the entire day,” Weinberger said. “At our summer pools, we average roughly 13 people per day.”

That contrasts with BREC’s splash pads, which are “always full,” he said.

“You can go to those sites even on a weekend in April and see hundreds of people,” he said.

Banks-Daniel said BREC could improve attendance at the Anna T. Jordan pool by making sure regular hours are set and by keeping the pool properly staffed and promoted.

“I grew up here, this is my playground,” Banks-Daniel said. “It can be a neighborhood hotspot again.”

BREC officials collected 52 surveys from people who attended the meeting Thursday night. Those surveys will be taken into account before officials bring a recommendation before the full commission, Jack said.