July 20, 2010
Swimmers lap up dog days at Wickwire Pool
Attendance is up this summer as city looks at how to fund extensive repairs at aging pool
City resident Arlene Dean swims laps in Wickwire Pool once or twice a day throughout summertime.
Her Homer Avenue house sits near the pool, and she takes advantage of its location.
“For me, it’s like a stay vacation. I don’t really like going anywhere in the summer because I would miss the pool,” Dean said.
Dean swims at the YMCA during the winter, but prefers swimming in a place where she can feel the sun and see trees.
“It’s the thing I look forward to most in the summer,” Dean said. “I much prefer outdoor swimming to indoor swimming.”
Attendance at Wickwire Pool has been higher than usual this summer, especially on the hottest days, said John McNerney, director of the Cortland Youth Bureau.
“It’s all weather related,” McNerney said. “We see our attendance jump when it’s 85 degrees or hotter.”
McNerney said 6,260 people visited the pool between its opening date June 26 and July 14.
Attendance was highest during the heat wave that hit the East Coast between July 4 and 9, as it reached 300 people July 4; 256 people July 5; 552 people July 6; 834 people July 7; 660 people July 8; and 785 people July 9, according to figures gathered by pool employees.
McNerney said that without a public pool during the heat wave, the city would have “displaced hundreds of youths and families looking for ways to escape the heat.”
Some children would swim unsupervised in the gravel pit in Homer or the Tioughnioga River, he said. Some could go to Yaman Beach with their parents, but most children cannot walk there because it is on the edge of the city and near roads with heavy traffic, McNerney said.
Residents of Cortland and nearby towns have been swimming in Wickwire Pool since it opened in 1946.
Prominent local industrialist Charles Wickwire donated a swimming pool to Suggett Park shortly after it opened on Aug. 7, 1945. It was described as “the largest and best equipped pool” in this region and one of the largest in the state. At 11,250 square feet, it is larger than an Olympic-size pool.
Wickwire Pool has been a free summer recreation opportunity and a place where thousands of children have learned to swim through free swimming lessons.
But maintaining the aging pool has become an increasingly difficult task, and the pool will need a major renovation within the next few years. During budget workshops in recent years, city officials have mentioned the possibilities of closing the pool or charging pool users a fee to use it.
McNerney said the 2010 budget includes $81,554 for Wickwire Pool. Every spring, city employees have to repair cracks in the tiles on the inside of the pool.
The repairs usually cost about $5,000, but the necessary repairs were more extensive this year. The Cortlandville Town Board paid the city $14,400 to repair the pool and keep it open this year.
McNerney said he thinks the repairs will keep the pool in operation for a couple of years. But the pool’s shell is at the end of its life, and it needs a new filtration system, he said.
McNerney said he thinks the city needs to devise a strategy to renovate Wickwire Pool. He said he wants the city Common Council to support a capital budget item to bond for pool renovations, seek state funding and grants and fundraise on behalf of the city.
His estimate for the renovation project is $800,000 to $900,000.
“My hope is that once the renovations are put in place it would be something that would last us at least 10 to 15 years,” McNerney said.
He said the pool gives children a place to learn to swim and gives teenagers a healthy form of entertainment, while keeping them out of trouble.
“Swimming is a life skill that it’s hard to put a value and a price tag on,” McNerney said.
The pool is open to the public from noon to 7 p.m., seven days a week until Aug. 29.
It is also open for adult swim from 7 to 8 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays and for family swim from 7 to 8 p.m. Fridays.
In addition to free swimming for residents, Wickwire Pool is used for the Cortland County Red Cross’ instructional swim program, Camp ARCO, YMCA day camps, The town of Scott’s instructional swim program, the YMCA swim team and the Migrant Workers Outreach Program.
Jean Minella, a Red Cross volunteer, has taught swimming lessons at Wickwire Pool for about 30 years.
“Basically, I just think everyone should learn how to swim,” Minella said after a lesson Thursday. “I started doing it when my kids were young and just kept doing it.”
“I really would hate to see it close because I don’t see how they could accommodate all the people that swim here at Yaman Pool,” she said.
Melissa Hall, a city resident who has four children, said she has been swimming in the pool for 35 years, and now her four children go to the pool every day. They take lessons in the morning, and the older children return to swim in the afternoon.
“It’s just wonderful. It’s just exercise for them and they get to see their kids who they miss so much from school,” she said.
Children in the Migrant Education Outreach Program were swimming in the shallow end of the pool on Friday afternoon. The program focuses on helping the children of local migrant workers with math and literacy.
“It’s very important to us because it’s the only place we can take the students to swim,” said Heather Mark, a teacher for the program. “It’s a good reward after they work hard all week.”
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