It’s been another week of sweltering temperatures in Baltimore, but for many children and teens, there’s no place to take a swim and cool off.
Both the Patterson Park and Cherry Hill pools have maintenance issues so extensive that they will be closed for the full summer season, the Recreation and Parks Department says, while the Clifton Park pool remains inoperable until further notice.
A local radio station was slammed after tweeting a helicopter video of children hopping the fence yesterday to swim in one of the closed pools, calling it a “break-in.”
Commenters denounced the station for demonizing young people, rather than questioning why the Scott administration couldn’t have the facilities up and running amid record-high temperatures.
“It’s hot out, Why aren’t the damn pools open for our youth,”one demanded.
“Where is the Park and Rec $$$ going?” asked another. “Where is the staff? Where is the mayor? Why are these pools not open?”
“It’s hot out, Why aren’t the damn pools open for our youth” – Twitter commenter @fierceroller23 demanded.
“Children in Baltimore experience a lot of challenges and a lot of trauma. They should at least be able to swim safely and experience the joy of a public pool,” Councilman Zeke Cohen told The Brew today.
“It is deeply disappointing that we have three pools across the city that are currently down,” continued Cohen, whose district includes the Patterson Park pool.
Usually bustling during the peak summer heat, the area surrounding Patterson Park Pool is eerily desolate, with the pool locked up behind chained gates and “No Trespassing” signs.
The surface water, baking in the July sun, has turned a murky green.
One woman, clad today in matching bathing suits with her young son, looked at the chained gates with confusion.
“Don’t bother,” another called over to her. “They’re not opening for the summer.”
Cohen began pushing for repairs to the Patterson Park Pool in 2019, when he and the 46th state delegation secured about $3.5 million for the pool’s renovations.
Repairs were slated for last year, but he said Rec and Parks has explained that it could not find a contractor to carry out the maintenance.
While Cohen believes the agency has since secured a contractor, an ever-growing list of maintenance issues, including a broken pump motor and flooding, led to the pool’s shut down for the 2023 season.
“To me, it’s about how we all work together in this moment of challenge to solve and salvage this summer,” Cohen said.
To that end, he introduced a resolution last night calling for a City Council hearing on the condition of city-owned pools.
“We know that Baltimore has some of the oldest infrastructure in the country as it relates to pools,” Cohen said.
“I look forward to the hearing to both understand the scope and depth of the challenges, and also hold the administration accountable.”
Losing a Vital Asset
Besides a place to just cool off, pools provide a community gathering space in a city where free offerings are rapidly shrinking.
“Traditionally in the summer, we see a lot of youth violence, and we know that pools and parks are critical not just for the fun and joy they provide, but also in keeping our kids safe,” Cohen noted.
That view is apparently shared by Mayor Brandon Scott, who launched the B’More Summer youth engagement program in conjunction with his curfew program, aimed at keeping young people off the streets after dark.
One facet of the program is weekly teen pool parties on Friday evenings.
According to the program’s website, the next pool party was supposed to be at Lake Clifton Pool in three days. But given the maintenance issues, it’s unclear whether that event will go ahead as scheduled.
Lake Clifton Pool was also supposed to serve as the venue for Fluid Movement, the Baltimore-based synchronized swimming troupe’s annual “water ballet” show.
Ironically, the theme for this year’s production is “Sinkholes, Sewers, & Streams: A Water Infrastructure Ballet.”
The group, which rehearsed at Patterson Park Pool in past years, was forced to switch to Lake Clifton due to Patterson Park’s ongoing maintenance issues.
Now, the current plan is for their first two shows (July 29 and 30) to be at the Riverside Park Pool and the second two (August 5 and 6) will be at the Druid Park Pool.
“We are very sad that we aren’t able to bring this show to Clifton Park Pool; however, this move is a huge burden off of our friends at Baltimore City Rec & Parks,” the group wrote in an email yesterday evening.
Moving the shows to Riverside and Druid Hill, they said, “is our best option for our shows with Patterson Park Pool also experiencing issues forcing it to have been closed for most of the summer.”
According to the Department of Recreation and Parks, pools are inspected daily in season, but not during the rest of the year.
“At the end of each pool season, we drain our pools, evaluate the system and then winterize the pool. In the spring, we reinspect the pool to ensure that it doesn’t have any new issues, and then we make necessary repairs,” said agency spokesman Kevin Nash.
The pools at Patterson and Clifton parks both have broken pool motors, which are keeping them offline. “Because of the age of the pool’s infrastructure, a replacement motor isn’t easily accessible,” Nash said.
Patterson Park has also experienced flooding, thus extending its repair timeline. The Lake Clifton Pool is expected to be operational “in the coming days,” Nash added.
Meanwhile, Cherry Hill Pool is reportedly suffering from a leak, and the city’s consultant has recommended replacing the entire pool’s piping, an endeavor that will take the full summer.
Residents have been given the option to swim in the indoor pool located at Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center.
Cohen is aware of these stop-gap solutions and has proposed some of his own, including running shuttles to other city pools and installing sprinklers in Patterson Park. Still, nothing can make up for a fully operational neighborhood pool.
“There needs to be more proactive maintenance. I know Rec and Parks has a good aquatic team, but when the swim season ends, they need to do the deferred maintenance,” he said.
“That’s what we intend to discuss in the oversight hearing – the path to getting all of our pools back online.”