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Monday, July 22, 2024

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Hot summer days, more pool delays: Gooch Pool expected to open soon, official says

In Memphis, the summer heat brings excitement among the city’s youth, eagerly awaiting the opening of public pools. By law, all pools in Memphis are supposed to open by June 15th, offering a much-needed break from the sweltering temperatures.

However, for some community members, their wait for the pool has been longer than they expected. Gooch Pool, a vital community hub, has yet to be opened, leaving its regular patrons puzzled and frustrated.

“It seems as though they are violating a Supreme Court Order,” said JoAnn Street.

Street is a community activist and the founder of the community group, HUG Park Friends. HUG Park Friends supports the beautification and use of Hollywood, University, and Gooch Parks in Memphis, TN. Street stated that she and her community were given no clear reason why the pool had yet to open.

“At first they said it was because of the cleanliness of the water, then they said it was because of a water pump issue,” said Street. “If there are other issues, they need to give an answer to the people.”

Memphis Parks Director Nick Walker acknowledges that Gooch Pool, and a few others, have yet to open this summer, but he says that this is for good reason. Walker states that the Gooch pool was one of many pools that underwent renovations and required more electrical work before it was able to safely open.

“Our intent was to open up all of them on opening day, but there’s a lot of stuff that goes into it,” said Walker. “The impact of it is substantial, and we don’t want to diminish that, but at the same time pools are exciting, they’re also one of the most dangerous things that we open. We have to make sure that we’ve got the staffing and the pools are operating correctly.”

Walker said that eight of Memphis’ 12 outdoor public pools are open.

Gooch Pool, needed renovations, which were paid for from the city’s $75 million Accelerate Memphis bond issuance. Among the repairs and upgrades: a pool liner and new equipment room including pump and filter. There’s also the production of the new mural at the park, done in collaboration with the Urban Arts Commission.

“Also, before adding water to the pools, we needed to install SkyCop cameras for safety. These cameras were necessary because of past incidents of unauthorized pool use,” Walker said. “Electrical issues delayed the camera installations and, subsequently, filling the pools and testing the equipment. Gooch was affected by these delays. We found additional electrical work needed to ensure safety.”

Walker said the pools would open once the work is finished and signed off, including by the Shelby County Health Department.

“I can’t give a specific date, but the pools will open to the public as soon as everything is ready,” he said. When asked if it was worth it to open some pools for only a few weeks, he said.

“It’s unfortunate, but I think if you talked to anybody in these communities, they would rather the pool be open for two or three weeks than for us to just unilaterally say we’re not going to try,” he said.

There is no doubt that the pool is an amazing resource on a hot summer day, but for Street and her community, this pool is more than just a place to cool off. It’s a sanctuary for the kids in underserved neighborhoods. It provides a safe space for them to socialize, build community, and stay out of trouble. Each day the pool remains closed, the community feels the impact of its absence.

“Crime is the result of poverty and neglect, so when you increase access to resources those incidents are very far and few between,” said Street.

For Street, the disparity in the treatment of public amenities across Memphis is stark. Parks like Shelby Farms and Overton Park, located in more affluent areas, consistently receive new equipment and facilities. These parks boast well-maintained landscapes, modern playgrounds, and ample resources.

Meanwhile, she said, parks in underserved neighborhoods, like Gooch Park, struggle to secure basic necessities. Despite ongoing requests, Gooch Park is still trying to get simple things like portable toilets and water fountains.

“A lot of times I bring my own water to the park because we have no basics,” said Street. “When one of the kids went into distress because he got dehydrated, there was no water.”

This inequity is not just an inconvenience; it’s a reflection of a deeper, systemic issue. The lack of investment in parks and recreational facilities in underserved neighborhoods perpetuates cycles of neglect and disinvestment. It sends a message to the residents of these areas that their communities are less valued.

For the children, it means fewer opportunities to play, learn, and grow in a safe environment. For Street, a step toward park equity would include an increase in equipment and accessibility to equipment.

“It would be playground equipment for children according to their age, and inclusive play, that means children of any ability can go and play,” said Street. “It would contain something for everybody to do, adult exercise equipment, walking trails, and a pavilion for people to have outings for their family and friends.”

Moving forward, Street and those in her community will continue calling for change. They are demanding that their parks and pools receive the same level of care and investment as those in more affluent areas. They know that equitable access to recreational facilities can have a profound impact on their community, fostering a sense of pride and providing safe spaces for their children to thrive.

Walker, approves of the approach and encourages it.

“I tell people all the time if you want to see improvements in your neighborhood, speak with your council members, speak with your representatives, speak with the administration,” he said. “Hold us accountable and advocate for more things.”

As the summer progresses, the hope is that the story of Gooch Pool and the fight for park equity in Memphis will be a catalyst for meaningful change. It’s a call to action for city officials to recognize and address the disparities, ensuring that all residents, regardless of their neighborhood, have access to the resources and facilities they deserve.

“Parks and community spaces are the key to having a society where we can have joy, and we need that,” she said.


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