Pool Party

Dear Readers,

Shocking revelations by three councilmembers have called into question the accuracy of a recent resident survey. Dramatic confessions from the podium at Jan. 14th city council meeting, caused pandemonium. Almost.

Councilmembers Rubin Snipper, Terry Seamens, and Colleen Clay admitted in public testimony that they had each received one of the approximately 3000 resident surveys and filled them out. This, they admit, skews the results of one of the questions “In the last 12 months, about how many times, if ever, have you. . . Attended a City Council meeting in person?.”

The guilty (or more accurately, sheepish) parties were not taken into custody, nor were they tasered.

The survey results that were perhaps of most interest were those that showed the amount of interest, and willingness to pay for, a municipal gym. Detractors of the plan have been pushing for this, saying that it was driven by an unrepresentative but influential gang of activists and politicians. Members of this gang can be seen loitering in school yards, coaching soccer.

The detractors are probably unhappy to find that 83% of the respondents support the gym and only 17% do not. Support is higher among renters, younger residents, and those of lower income.

More bad news for the gym detractors – 69% approve of assessing additional fees ($50 on a homes with a property value of $400,000) on homeowners. 80% of the renters taking the survey supported it, more than the 60% of homeowners who did, but that is still a majority of homeowners.

We suspect detractors will seize upon the fact that 25% of the respondents checked off “don’t know” on these questions. We have yet to see how long it would take to make the 5 to 8 million dollars needed build a gym at the $50 a year per $400,000 home rate. And, then there is the yearly expense of operating a gym – from $75,000 to $100,000. Plenty there for the detractors to complain about, yet.

Still, that 83% support for the gym was cited later in the evening during a discussion about what to do with 1.2 million dollars in grant money, originally intended for the gym, but more recently proposed to fund renovations to the council chambers. The renovations would convert the chambers into a community performance space.

There are second thoughts about that proposal, and some backing off from previous statements that the funds will not be available if they are not used soon. Councilmember Terry Seamens questioned the redirection of the funds, saying that his constituents are unhappy that the gym appears to have been put on hold, or even abandoned, while other projects go forward. The gym, which would be located in Seamens’ Ward 4, has strong support there from renters, who make up the majority of the ward’s population.

Complicating the issue is the pool. Vocal elements of the community want the Piney Branch Elementary School pool reopened. Most vocal, most visible, and most irresistible (emotionally and politically) are the children who have addressed and petitioned the council on the issue. Last year the council learned the hard way not to disappoint the pint-sized pool party – their initial lack of response nearly got them tarred and feathered. So, the council, which now understands that disapointing a voter’s child is political suicide, firmly backs reopening the pool.

Therefore, they cast withering glares in the direction of the county school superintendent Jerry Weast who suggests converting the pool space into a gym. Weast apparently thinks he can solve his problem (getting rid of the costly pool) by pretending to solve our problem (finding a place to put a gym). But, we’re not as stupid as we look. Not only would that infuriate the pint-sized ones and their voting parents, but, as the council well knows having looked into using local school gyms instead of building one, it would not solve the problem. School gyms are county run and give no priority to the communities where the gyms are located. Local gyms are booked solid by groups from all over the county. And, of course they are not available during school hours and are closed on snow days when they would be greatly needed.

On the other hand, if the county would grant local control, it is a tempting way for some on the council to solve the gym problem. But, not tempting enough to bite on Weast’s baited hook, yet. Of course, this means a public hearing! Let the community scrutinize the hook, first

So, Dear Readers, swim on over to the public hearing on the fate of the pool Monday Feb. 11, at 6:45 pm at the City Council Chambers.


About the Author

Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

5 Comments on "Pool Party"

  1. Tom Gagliardo | January 18, 2008 at 2:52 pm |

    Oh, Gilbert. As the poet mused, there are lies, damn lies and survey results. Of the 3,000 that were sent out how many were returned? Refusing to face facts,
    I remain,
    A loyal blogger

  2. Dear Loyal Blogger,
    1057 surveys were returned. Of course we now know that three of them were “ringers.” The detailed survey report can be downloaded from the city site.

  3. Gilbert,
    Two points. One, it is entirely inaccurate to imply that students and parents at Piney Branch are the only pool supporters. We have about a thousand petition signatures and letters from residents who want to save the pool including those who live on Maple Avenue, in Victory Towers, swim teams, those with chronic illnesses, etc etc.
    Two, you repeat the rumor that our local gyms are full (with people from Rockville or somewhere). Not true. The school gyms sit empty on evenings and weekends, when teens most need them–ask the building service workers in the schools. Why aren’t we using the gyms already sitting in Takoma Park? That’s the hot question.
    The support from City Council for the pool comes, not because they are afraid of small children and their parents, but because they have heard from a huge cross-section of residents who know that this is our only chance to have a pool, AND because they know the truth that the gym sitting next to the Community Center at Piney Branch is empty and available if we can get city/county staff to work out the access issues.
    I want our city to have access to the many gyms in our midst–the Piney Branch gym, the Middle School gym etc. I also want to preserve the only pool our community is ever going to have: for the elderly and disabled in Takoma Park, a pool is useful and a gym is not. Once they fill in the pool, this asset will be gone forever.
    Sue Katz Miller
    Piney Branch and Takoma Middle parent

  4. Tom Gagliardo | January 19, 2008 at 1:00 pm |

    Caro Gilberto
    I did the math. If each residential property assessed at $400,000 ponies up $50 to build a $5 million to $8 million gym –estimates from the report to the City Council — there would need to be 100,000 to 160,000 such properties. We are a city of somewhere around 17-18,000 people, far fewer assessed properties. So let’s say that there are 4,000 such properties which would mean it would take 25-40 years to pay off the gym without factoring in interest or operating costs. Hmmmm.

  5. Tom Gagliardo | January 22, 2008 at 12:57 pm |

    Here are some other factors to discuss:
    The reason estimates for gym construction are as high as $5-8 million include the fact that there are additional costs particular to the site next to the Takoma Park Community Center/Sam Abbott Citizens Center which result from:
    1. The location of utilities, including a major electrical conduit, which would need to be relocated;
    2. The location of existing buildings, which forces any new building to be sited oddly into existing open space, and which is arguably too small to create sufficient parking to meet the need created by certain gym uses; and
    3. Soil and geological conditions, which require amelioration.
    As one who has consistently asked whether we can meet recreational needs for all, particularly young people, by giving to local groups priority use of the existing gyms in or near Takoma Park (TP Middle — three, when the largest is divided; TP Elementary, Piney Branch Elementary, Rec Center on New Hampshire, Long Branch Rec Center on Piney Branch, Montgomery College, Columbia Union College, Takoma Academy)I have nonetheless worked with the community advisory committee to devise a feasible plan.
    Seems to me it’s time to consider another site to avoid extra-ordinary costs. One that comes to mind is the “SSI” site on Philadelphia across from Montgomery College.

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