The future of the Wallingford Community Pool has been an ongoing topic since the discovery of the need for significant repairs to the surface of this enormous, practically unique swimming facility. This fall, with the help of a survey, decisions on its future will be made.
This column will shamelessly advocate for keeping this community asset. In the spirit of full disclosure, I declare that I was a proud member of the first Community Pool Renovation Building Committee way back in the early 1990s when the debate concerning the future of the pool was first raised. Jon Walworth, a professional engineer and former member of the Recreation Commission, among many other civic endeavors he has been involved in, chaired this committee of approximately seven of us.
At the time of our work, zero-depth pools, such as what we have at Community Pool, did not fit the State Department of Health regulations. A meeting we had in Hartford with this regulatory authority convinced us that they would not exempt our pool from regulations, so we proceeded to design a beautiful but standard-shaped pool. When we presented our recommendation in a Town Council meeting, several councilors went ballistic. They flat out rejected our proposal, and went on to secure special state legislation allowing this zero-depth feature, much to the lasting irritation of the Connecticut Department of Health.
The entire membership of our committee resigned after the public thrashing we took from the Town Council. Another committee was appointed and the project was completed, with Jon and other members sharing all that we had learned about public swimming pools, which was considerable.
I say all this so that readers understand that this Wallingford recreation facility has engendered long and deep affection among its many supporters. I remain convinced that it should remain, and I would offer a few comments concerning: 1) its value as a community asset and 2) ways that improvements might boost participation.
Community asset: as noted above, the future of Community Pool has been debated before. I recall how those who advocated closing the pool permanently insisted that there was no longer sufficient interest because so many backyard pools existed, and that other alternative recreational activities were available.
What that argument failed to note is, first of all, Wallingford is not Palm Springs. There really aren’t that many backyard pools, and that means that most of the residents of Wallingford lack the opportunity to enjoy an outdoor swimming experience during the summer. Secondly, the Town Council needs to consider that there are many thousands of people within our community that do not have the wherewithal to access other water recreation elsewhere.
Third of all, this is indeed a community asset of long standing. I truly do not think that the composition of our population has changed such that a community pool is no longer worth maintaining. To the contrary, bringing this resource up to the standards of our other recreational assets would likely bring many people back to the pool.
Ways to Improve Community Pool: Let me start by saying that I take a backseat to no one in my admiration of our Parks & Recreation Department. It is filled with energetic, creative and imaginative people that have made Wallingford the envy of many other towns when it comes to the range of fun activities and fine facilities the department offers.
Having said that, I would therefore ask them to concentrate some of that energy and creativity to making Community Pool all it could be. Many articles I have read refer to a splash pad that could be installed. I can tell you that there are many, many such amenities — not all that expensive, by the way — that could truly enhance the experience people have at the pool, even if it meant shrinking the size of the pool to accommodate such enhancements. Our building committee discovered that twenty-five years ago, and the growth in the popularity of water parks shows that such features really add a whole range of entertaining experiences to a pool.
My other suggestion is that pool tags be sold in places that are more convenient to reach than the department’s facility way out on Fairfield Boulevard. I might suggest places such as the Town Clerk’s Office and the Spanish Community of Wallingford to start. And advertise this availability as widely as possible.
In short, Wallingford has an opportunity to lead once again as it had with the library expansion some years back. The investment made then has resulted in one of the finest such facilities in the State of Connecticut. Given the in-house talent of our Parks and Rec Department, there is no reason we couldn’t economically bring Community Pool up to that standard.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford town councilor.