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Residents fume as South Tampa pool reopens but one in east Tampa stays shuttered

TAMPA — A boy dives neatly into the cool water of a South Tampa pool as three girls splash and toss a ball into a net under a fabric shade sail.

Jennifer Du watches from a lounge chair. Her daughters learned to swim in the Interbay Pool three blocks from home and were elated when it reopened this summer.

"They love it," Du said. "Especially in this kind of hot weather."

But on the other side of Tampa, a pool sits empty. Nearby, kids wait in a line at a city summer camp for a turn to play four square.

"Why is it not open?" asked Jeronte Jackson, 13. "I love to swim. It gets hot out here."

The city closed both pools three years ago after they couldn't meet a federal anti-drowning law requiring drain covers.

Last month, the city opened Interbay for the summer in response to community requests. Those who live near the Williams Park Pool cried foul.

"Why Interbay Pool?" said Gloria Taylor, a retiree who lives near the pool. "Why not Williams?"

Taylor and about 40 of her neighbors brought their frustrations — calling it "discrimination" — to City Council members last month.

"It doesn't look good," said City Council member Frank Reddick, who represents east Tampa and lives next to the empty pool. "We in my neighborhood have been totally neglected."

It irritates him when he drives by the shuttered pool, he said. Sometimes, his neighbors yell at him at the park, wanting to know what he will do.

Some were angered by a news release announcing the Interbay Pool reopening, in which Mayor Bob Buckhorn said: "Having our young people in a structured and healthy environment is far better than being unattended and unsupervised."

Sam Kinsely has a simple question: What about our kids?

He lives next to the Williams Park Pool and has served as the park's neighborhood liaison to the city. He said his neighbors include many single parents who can't afford backyard pools or vacations.

City officials, he said, have not given him straight answers about the state of the pool or the park, and, three years is too long to wait.

Santiago Corrada, the city chief of staff, said he can understand why people are upset that their pool is closed. But he said the two pools had very different issues and the Interbay pool was an easier fix.

Interbay Pool, located in the Culbreath Heights neighborhood, needed minor modifications to bring it into compliance with federal law. The pool at Williams Park still needs significant repairs.

The original estimate to bring Williams Park Pool into compliance with federal law was $105,000, city parks director Karen Palus told the City Council last month. But since closing, its shell has come out of the ground.

Interbay Pool was open during recent winters but closed in the summers to save money, parks department spokeswoman Linda Carlo said. Opening Interbay Pool this summer will cost $23,000 to $25,000, she said.

In the summer of 2008, the last summer both pools were open, 35 people each day swam in the Williams pool and 84 at Interbay, Carlo said.

Keith Hough, 19, used to swim at Williams and said it was a good way to meet girls during the summer.

"When it's this hot, you could cool off," he said.

The dormant neighborhood pool means Cameron Stewart, his sister, and mother had to go to Cyrus Greene Park to swim. It was so crowded they haven't been back, said his mother, Taraina Holton.

Reddick said he often hears similar complaints: Children who are bused to Cyrus Greene Pool have to wait more than an hour for a turn in the pool, he said.

Palus said a citywide recreational and competitive aquatics assessment is in the works, which would include Williams Park Pool. Another assessment, costing $145,000, is looking at the overall plan for Williams Park.

Current problems at the site include erosion around the rectangular pool's shell, gutters that no longer drain properly and a filtration system that doesn't meet codes, Carlo said. The park's restrooms and a pool building also don't meet federal standards for handicapped people.

Williams Park has other problems as well, such as walkways that stay flooded for days after it rains.

The city has nine pools open this summer, three of which are year-round. Two other historic pools, Cuscadan and Jenkins, are closed for renovations.

Council members asked parks and recreation officials to bring an estimate of costs to repair the pool and costs to replace it at the council meeting Thursday.

Depending on the results, Corrada said Williams Park Pool may open next summer.

Times photographer Lara Cerri contributed to this report. Elisabeth Parker can be reached at eparker@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3431.

Residents fume as South Tampa pool reopens but one in east Tampa stays shuttered 07/23/11 [Last modified: Saturday, July 23, 2011 9:03pm]
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