In the center of Tampa is a very cool pool.
Yes, all public pools are cool to some degree, because it's Florida, and it's hot, and there is nothing like the blue chlorinated water of a pool when you don't happen to be lucky enough to have one handy in your back yard. A public pool is like a local park or a library branch you think of as your own, a perk to make living where you do that much better, a thing about which you can say: Okay, this is why I pay taxes.
So all city pools are something, but a particular historic one in Tampa is also something worth fixing.
The Cuscaden Park pool was built 77 years ago by the Works Progress Administration as a Depression-era project. The red brick oval building around the above-ground pool, like Tampa's old cigar factories, is the kind of structure that keeps a city interesting, the likes of which you don't expect to see built again.
More critical, though, is Cuscaden's public purpose.
When you took swimming lessons at the city pool not far from your front door as I did, when you were in the water for hours with other neighborhood kids till your fingers puckered and your eyes stung, when you spent long summer days learning lifesaving skills and mastering the highest diving board, well, you get what a public pool can mean. And it's hard to imagine a neighborhood that would appreciate this kind of amenity more than the urban V.M. Ybor community of old bungalows where the Cuscaden pool sits.
Actually, where it has been sitting closed because of cracks, leaks and filtration system problems since 2009.
Fixes to reopen the old Cuscaden pool will cost $1.5 million. And members of the mayor's staff recently told the City Council that they don't expect money to be budgeted to repair it before 2016. Which means at least another two summers before the first Tampa kid can even think about cannonballing in on a blazing hot day.
Understandably, some council members would like this to be reconsidered.
So here it is instructive to note a particular previous clash over a public pool in Tampa.
Then the conversation was about the closed Williams Park Pool, after another pool in a more affluent part of town reopened and Williams Park did not. The City Council member representing the neighborhood intimated he would vote against the mayor's budget unless there were funds for a fix, and the mayor said he needed only four of seven council votes anyway.
Drama, yes, but last summer, both were standing there under the July sun as the cameras clicked, the pool reopened and the first overjoyed kids splashed in. It can happen if you make it happen.
The mayor's staff did work up a litany of options for the Cuscaden Park pool — and for the neighborhood — ranging from putting in a splash park next to it without actually fixing the pool itself (price tag: $1 million) to building a new 50-meter pool and community center there ($10.8 million). Creative ideas.
But if they aren't ready to spend $1.5 million now — by the way, not a big drop in the overall budget bucket — how likely is it they would want to come up with nearly $11 million later?
The bottom line is that a neighborhood should be able to use its pool. Seems a pretty good time for a city to prioritize, work together and find a way to fix something cool worth saving.