Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer may not include swimming for hundreds of children living in the center of Allentown.
More than a year ago, members of City Council and residents made it clear they want the Fountain Park swimming pool along Martin Luther King Drive brought back to life to serve those kids.
But the pool, which has numerous cracks, remains closed, empty and deteriorating -- as it has been since 2009.
It may never reopen.
The city, which once had eight swimming pools, has made no progress toward increasing the number of pools for its residents. It has four old but operating pools, plus two spray parks. Three of those pools open this weekend, the fourth next weekend.
On May 16, 2012, City Council passed a resolution promising Allentown residents swimming pools in close proximity to their neighborhoods.
Even if Fountain Pool would be rebuilt, the people may not come, according to John Mikowychok, Allentown’s new parks and recreation director, who questions the wisdom of spending a lot of money on old pools.
He prefers gradual replacement of Allentown’s pools, but predicted the first new pool for the city “is at least more than a year away.”
“The current crop of families and recreational users aren’t going to the spartan rectangular pools of the 1950s and ’60s,” said Mikowychok. “A public swimming pool with solely that spartan rectangular facility is absolutely passé today. You would spend that kind of money, then watch your swimming pool set with 100 people a day.
“Perhaps we could spend $160,000 to $250,000 repairing Fountain Pool, but then you would have a facility that your parents and grandparents enjoyed and it would have less than stellar attendance, unless it is blistering hot. I’m questioning if the end result is something you would want to spend that kind of money on.
“To really do a swimming pool right, you don’t have to create a Dorney Park Wildwater Kingdom. But you can create a public pool with some interactive water features, zero depth areas, a few slides and things to keep children’s interest – and still have a very nice aquatic facility for people who want to swim laps.
“A pool with some nice amenities for young families is not cheap. They start at $1.25 million to $1.5 million and can easily go to $3 million to $4 million, depending on how elaborate you get – how many bells and whistles you want.”
Mikowychok, who started working for the city April 15, is optimistic Allentown eventually will get new swimming pools for its children. “Complete failure to act, to quote ‘Apollo 13,’ is not an option.”
How many pools for Allentown?
Mikowychok explained the National Recreation and Park Association’s standard is a city should have one pool for every 25,000 residents. Allentown’s growing population is approaching 120,000. “Using that standard, theoretically Allentown should have, what, five pools? But we’ve got two spray parks. So the question is: Do we need five pools and two spray parks? It’s too early for me to say.”
He added: “Having four pools and two spray pools is pretty darn good.” He said spray parks are free, fun for kids and much less expensive to operate than swimming pools. They don’t require pool managers, lifeguards or cashiers.
But City Council member Peter Schweyer said one big disadvantage of spray parks is “kids don’t learn how to swim there.”
Despite City Council’s May 2012 resolution, Mikowychok said: “You can’t have a swimming pool in every neighborhood. That’s just unrealistic. And it would be nice if everyone could walk to a pool, but I’m not sure that’s realistic today.”
Schweyer said restoring Fountain Park’s pool “is hugely important” because it would serve all of center city.
Despite free admission, attendance was low at Fountain before it closed, according to city officials, and vandals too often forced the pool to close by smashing glass bottles into it.
Mikowychok noted there have been discussions about the site of Fountain Park pool becoming a parking lot for all the athletic activity going on in that park, so people would not have to park on MLK Drive and 10th Street. That lot also would serve a future trail planned along nearby Little Lehigh Creek.
If the administration made a decision to pave over the Fountain Park pool, no action could be taken until City Council would hold at least three public hearings. According to the resolution it passed in May 2012, those hearings would be to discuss any future plan “relating to closing or relocating any aquatic facilities, prior to any action.”
Such hearings have never been held, because no plan for the future of the city’s pools has been proposed since the resolution was passed a year ago.
It was passed in response to an evaluation of the city’s pools by consultants that cost Allentown $80,000. That study’s recommendations, which many council members did not like, included permanently closing the Fountain Park pool and turning the Irving Street pool – the only pool in east Allentown -- into a spray park. At the time, Schweyer led the argument that Allentown needed more pools, not fewer pools.