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Proposal to close pool stings black residents

ST. PETERSBURG — When it was built in 1952, the Jennie Hall pool was the only one in St. Petersburg where black residents could go to swim.

That history is why the city's proposal to shut down the pool stings for many black residents.

"This is not just a pool to us," community activist Gwen Reese explained to City Council members at a public budget forum Wednesday night.

Mayor Bill Foster has suggested shuttering some city pools to help close a $14 million budget deficit. The idea of closing the Jennie Hall pool didn't sit well with more than 100 residents who gathered at the Enoch Davis Center.

Twanta McCrae, 47, said she grew up taking swimming lessons at Jennie Hall. She took her two daughters there as well, and now she worries about where her 3-year-old granddaughter, Pharyn, will learn to swim if the pool closes.

"Where's she gonna swim? Can she come swim at y'all's pool? Can she come to your house?" McCrae asked council members.

McCrae's three minutes before the council was one of the testiest exchanges of the night.

She accused Foster of not listening to the speakers and shouted at him for resting his head in his hand as residents spoke.

"I'm looking at your facial expressions right now, and you don't look like you care," she said.

Her statements to the council drew a number of cheers from the audience.

As McCrae left the meeting, numerous residents stopped her in the hall to thank her, saying they felt like their voices also weren't being heard.

Council Chairwoman Leslie Curran said after the meeting that she understood the frustration.

"It's tough times for everyone," she said.

Residents had several suggestions for keeping the pools open, including raising fees, courting corporate sponsorships and seeking volunteer life guards.

Foster said volunteer life guards weren't a viable option because of the risks involved. And he wasn't optimistic about finding corporate sponsors.

"They're in the same economic boat we're in," he said.

Most of the cuts to make up the projected $14 million deficit will come from noncritical services that Foster described as "wants."

"What these are coming down to are matters of convenience and inconvenience," he said.

Nneka Edney, 16, said her view of convenience differs from the mayor's, and that she worried how residents without cars would get to other pools if Jennie Hall closes.

"I feel like he's not put in the conditions we live in," said Edney, who added that she didn't use the pool.

The Jennie Hall pool is on the chopping block because it is the least used pool in the city, with an average yearly attendance of 4,141. Shore Acres, the other pool that may close, draws 11,568 people.

"Landmarks are great, and history is great," Foster said. "But if people had just used it, it wouldn't even be considered."

Proposal to close pool stings black residents 05/19/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 11:38pm]
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