St. Roch Playground work progresses, but swimming pool’s future remains uncertain

Crews are busy these days preparing the once-forlorn St. Roch Park for its scheduled reopening in May.

There will be a new baseball field, basketball court, repairs to the concession stands and restrooms among other upgrades once the work wraps in the coming weeks, but there will not be a pool.

The outdoor pool was too badly damaged to be covered by the $400,000 that was allocated for its repair, officials said.

It was one of several aspects of the neglected park that needed upgrades that have become possible through Federal Emergency Management Agency money, city bond dollars and community development block grants. The cost for the park’s renovation is $1.8 million.

The loss of the pool was one concern that St. Roch residents brought up during a community meeting late last year.

Reggie Lawson, a leader with the St. Roch Neighborhood Association, said Thursday that neighbors are working with state Rep. Wesley Bishop to secure state capital outlay dollars while they continue to seek grants in an effort to bring a pool back to the park, this time as an indoor facility. It’s needed, Lawson said, for senior citizens to do exercise and for schools to be able to start swim teams.

With an estimated price tag of $4.2 million, though, the challenge to build the natatorium is great. Still, Lawson said, the effort will be worth it if the dream becomes a reality.

“We want a state-of-the-art facility,” he said. “We want a facility that will instill pride in our young people.”

While the future of the pool is uncertain, the park will be ready for use in time for the New Orleans Recreation Department Commission’s summer season, according to Victor Richard, the agency’s CEO.

“It’s phenomenal to have this facility come back to its heyday,” Richard said Thursday during a news briefing to provide an update on the work. The work is part of a series of projects in the neighborhood. Nearing completion is a streetscaping project on St. Roch Avenue between the park and St. Claude Avenue and the renovation of the old neighborhood market at St. Roch and St. Claude. The market is expected to be ready to return to commerce in March, said Vince Smith, the city’s director of capital projects. District C Councilwoman Kristin Palmer said the rehabilitation work is “incredibly” important for a part of that city that has not seen a lot of investment.

Residents decided they wanted things to change, though, and also deserve credit for the work, she said.

“We’re very much poised to see this community come back stronger than before,” Palmer said.