Water world: Pools awash in excitement, controversy
City families looking forward to splashing and swimming this summer are seeing hopeful signs at Meade Park. The colorful slides and play equipment are installed, the "lazy river" is in, and the pool house is built.
But while the swimming season officially starts Memorial Day weekend, Brian Daly, acting parks director for the City, says the new $3.8 million Meade swimming complex– officially known as Onesty Family Aquatic Center– won't be open until mid-June, nine months after construction began.
"There are a few critical portions of construction going on right now," says Daly. "They have to finish the pool shell and the pool deck, and the parking lot is not complete."
The new pool is especially anticipated by families living in the adjacent Woolen Mills neighborhood.
"I think it's going to be great," says Kevin Cox, who lives with his family a few blocks away on Fairway Avenue. One concern, however, says Cox, is that the new pool won't have sufficient parking in its 36-space lot to accommodate cars carrying the 225 swimmers the pool can handle.
"There's going to be significant overflow into the neighborhood," worries Cox, who has asked the city to implement parking restrictions on nearby streets. According to Donovan Branche, assistant traffic engineer for the city, those concerns have been heard. Additional traffic spots will be painted onto the street around the park, she says, and restrictions (such as permit parking for residents) are being considered.
The city is also encouraging swimmers to use alternate transportation. City bus 1A will add a stop at Meade, according to Daly, and a 10-foot-wide pedestrian and bike path is being planned for the stretch of Carlton Avenue from the railroad tracks to Market.
Season passes good for Meade and Washington Park pools are available to all students in Charlottesville City schools and homeschoolers for $20; private school students, however, must pay the adult rate of $39 pre-season and $49 once the pools open– something that has angered radio show host and former city councilor Rob Schilling, who writes a scathing indictment of the pricing structure on his blog.
"The City of Charlottesville hates the fact that so many potential indoctrination hostages (aka eligible government-school students) opt-out of our deficient division in favor of a quality, private education. And now," Schilling writes, "the City has found a way to punish for their civic disobedience, those tax-paying citizens who choose to have their children privately educated, all in the name of City-compelled “fairness.”
Some parents agree– even if they don't word their criticism so harshly.
"It seems unfair," says Dragana Katalina-Sun, whose three children attend private school. The family– who arrived in Charlottesville as refugees through the International Rescue Committee– lives in downtown Charlottesville and operate Downtown Mall eateries Marco & Luca dumpling shop and Nicola's Veggies.
Daly, however, defends the pricing structure.
"We're not sure whether all those students who are in private school are residents," he explains. "We wanted to make it as easy as possible." Private school students, he notes, still get a discount over non-residents, who will have to shell out $79 per person pre-season for a pass, and $99 once the pools open.
The parks department seems to be in overdrive these days, as Meade is not the only city park getting an overhaul. The city announced on May 21 that a $1.5 million renovation of Forest Hills Park, located off Cherry Avenue, will begin by mid- to late-June and is expected to last through the summer. In addition to new restrooms, picnic shelters, two playgrounds, and a basketball court, the new Forest Hills park will feature walking trails and a 6,500-square-foot "spray ground."
The mother of all City parks– McIntire– has been the subject of endless debate over the past two years as the city and the YMCA attempt to negotiate with softball players, wading pool babies, ferris wheel riders, and foes of the Meadowcreek Parkway.
In other city pool news, Daly says construction on the much-debated Smith Pool at Buford Middle School will be underway in the next 30 days and is expected to completed by fall 2010.