Granolapark: The dead park

IMAGE: Jennifer Bemen of the Committee for a Takoma Park Scatter Garden makes her pitch. Photo by Bill Brown.


Dear Readers,

The Takoma Park city council’s Halloween report is in. Councilmember Fred Schultz counted 101 trick-or-treaters at his door within the prime-time hour and a half. It was a much higher count than usual, he said.

Councilmember Tim Male responded with another statistic. His son collected 215 pieces of candy. He had “a lot of energy,” he deadpanned.

Mayor Kate Stewart reported seeing a comfortingly large number of Hillary Clintons, “some with secret service agents.”

Ashes, ashes

The Halloween report continued with a proposal to dump dead bodies in a city park. Cremated, of course.

Many Takoma Parkians wouldn’t live anywhere else, so “why should they be dead anywhere else?” asked “scatter garden” advocate Jennifer Bemen.

The tiny corner of the Twitterverse that follows the Takoma Park City Council exploded as the Committee for a Takoma Park Scatter Garden laid out its proposal. The irreverent Tweeters were Sentinel reporter Kathleen Stubbs, Takoma Park resident Arthur David Olson and Your Gilbert.










Are we not fish?

But that’s not the big news. The big news is that the city seems to be pulling the plug on the formerly-beloved Piney Branch Elementary School Pool and has requested the county to build an aquatic center on the nearby Washington Adventist Hospital campus to take its place.

Mayor Kate Stewart, WAH President Erik Wangsness, Washington Adventist University Dr. Weymouth Spence and Montgomery College TPSS Campus vice-president and provost Dr. Brad Stewart all signed the letter to Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. The letter is dated Oct. 25, 2016, and is posted to the city website here.

In the past the city government joined the fight with residents to keep county funding for the Piney Branch Pool. It’s been an almost-yearly struggle. One year they had to charge the county trenches twice.


A 2015 rally to save the poll included mayor, then city councilmember, Kate Stewart and city councilmember Terry Seamens. Photo by Bill Brown.

But, now, with almost no public notice, the city council starting talking up the idea of giving up the Piney Branch Pool and pushing for an aquatic center at WAH. WAH will be moving, but not for years, so presumably this is a long-range plan.

“I would like to clarify that the city and city council is in no way ‘giving up’ on the PBES pool,” writes Mayor Kate Stewart. Read her complete response in the comment section below. 

It was no coincidence that when this first came up in a public meeting it sounded like the continuation of a previous discussion. Apparently, the council has been bouncing the idea around in emails and private conversation (but not in groups of three or more, which would violate the state’s open-meeting laws).

As abrupt as it may seem, the Long Shadows of the Future were cast months ago when the school system started eyeing the pool space for much-needed classroom expansion. At the time the council laced up its combat boots, ready for Pool Wars yet again. Since then, they’ve traded in their boots for flippers so they can swim with the flow. Are we not fish?

We are fish who can count, says the letter.

“The school-aged population has grown markedly in and near Takoma Park.” they concede. “ MCPS is beginning its facility study to find space for additional classrooms at PBES. We understand that providing both more classrooms and keeping and improving the indoor pool on the constrained school property will be a tall challenge.”


Washington Adventist Hospital, 2011. Photo by Bill Brown.

The letter-writers raise their gaze to the wider Holistic Pool View. Other pools are closing or have closed: The Montgomery College Takoma Park campus proposes to close its swimming pool (which explains the provost’s signature) “as it addresses faculty needs.” Wait. What? Does that mean they are closing it only to faculty? Strange, tricksy writing.

Washington Adventist University closed its pool as well (which explains the WAU president’s signature).

So, in other words. They are giving up on saving Piney Branch Pool, forming an alliance to bring pressure on the county executive to build one o’ them-there fancy multi-pool aquatic centers like the ones they lavish on their up-county little selves. For Takoma Park’s low income children, for the community college (faculty?) and the Adventist private college.

They may be swimming with the flow, but it’s shallow water.

What effect will this have on the Piney Branch Pool while the hospital prepares to leave, and an aquatic center is built? That will take years.

As will tearing down the Piney Branch Pool and turning the space into classrooms. Is the county school system willing to wait?

– Gilbert


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Granolapark, takoma park, city council, news, community, politics, opinion, column

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 "Granolapark: The dead park"

  1. Municipal scatter garden makes no sense –

    Pool at WAH also makes no sense. If you’re going to have an aquatic center, then put it at the recreation center that everyone agrees should be renovated.

    Hopefully, the county will just ignore this request, given that we’re all getting a spiffy new aquatic and fitness center just don’t the road. I know, I know, bourgeois Takoma Park types think that lower-income youth are incapable, but I am very confident that they can handle a free, five-minute bus ride. It’s the bourgeois types that propose these bizarre land uses that we should be concerned about.

  2. Kate Stewart | November 4, 2016 at 6:32 pm |

    I would like to clarify that the city and city council is in no way “giving up” on the PBES pool. Only two weeks ago myself and city staff as well as resident representatives had a meeting with MCPS facilities and planning staff to ensure the city is involved in the feasibility study at PBES so that we can make sure MCPS considers designs that include keeping the pool. We are also looking at the possibility of an aquatics center on the WAH campus because our primary goal is to ensure access to a pool and water safety for residents of the community. Therefore we are exploring multiple options.

    In addition, with the relocation of Washington Adventist Hospital to White Oak we are presented with challenges as well as opportunities. To make the most of the opportunities before us, we are building partnerships that will allow us to strengthen our advocacy on behalf of the residents of Takoma Park in Rockville and in Annapolis. For the first time in the history of our city, the major institutions in our community have joined together. The Washington Adventist Hospital, Montgomery College, and Washington Adventist University have come together with the City in asking the County Executive to explore the feasibility of an aquatics center on the campus of Washington Adventist Hospital.

    With the pending move of the Hospital to White Oak, we must work together – the Hospital, elected officials, residents and our other major institutions – to think about the future and work together to ensure Takoma Park has the services and amenities that meet the needs of all of our residents. We look forward to continuing this conversation the residents, and with our community partners as we plan for the future of our city.

    Updates on discussions with the various institutions have been provided by myself and city staff over the last few months and the idea of an aquatics center on the WAH campus has been discussed by council and was part of our budget discussions last spring.

    Kate Stewart

  3. Tim Male City Councilmember | November 5, 2016 at 10:16 am |

    Working hand-in-hand with residents, the City Council has been working to preserve the pool in Piney Branch Elementary School in what is an annual battle where County Executive and county staff seek to de-fund it and we all rally together and, through the County Council, get the money restored to keep the pool open. Gilbert knows this. One of the most recent (successful) efforts was to ensure that the ongoing study of Piney Branch School expansion would include an option that would preserve the pool – school system staff had previously only wanted designs that would replace it with classrooms.

    But any observer also knows that neither residents nor the Council nor all of us together have ever won more than a brief respite – victories that have to be re-won every year.

    The idea of an aquatics center – in the future – on the grounds of the closing hospital is one of our best chances to get the county to make a long term investment in recreation infrastructure in our area. Nothing about the Council working on a long-term plan for what would be a ‘home run’ of an aquatics center will prevent us from continuing to advocate just as hard, side-by-side with residents for the Piney Branch pool.
    The County should take a serious look at the possibility of using the hospital campus for this, since there is rare space in an otherwise densely populated area to build something that could really be an amazing asset for the region and of course for all residents on the city.

    On another note, its not just about one pool – its about having a network of recreation opportunities that are close at hand for every resident so that exercise is more easily part of everyone’s day. We will never get the endless soccer-plexed lawns of Rockville and Gaithersburg because there is just not that scale of open space left where we are down county – but swimming we could do.

    ….And…. our Olympic athletes made the region and nation proud when they took so many gold, silver, and bronze medals at the Rio Olympics, but it wasn’t a fluke or one time thing. This region is a hot spot for good swimmers, consistently generating OIympians and national level athletes. It’s not because we have just one pool, but a whole network of pools for young and old alike that have the region recognized as one of the top 10 best places for swimmers in the country. You can see one of those rankings here

  4. “Mayor Kate Williams reported seeing a comfortingly large number of Hillary Clintons, “some with secret service agents.” (paragraph 3)

    The mayor’s name is actually Kate Stewart (as it appears later in your piece). I can certainly understand the confusion: The previous mayor, who served for many years, is named Bruce Williams.

  5. Susan Katz Miller | November 18, 2016 at 4:34 pm |

    If we lose the Piney Branch Pool, we lose the ability to give ALL public school children at Piney Branch exposure to swimming and water safety. MCPS is never, ever, ever going to let them be transported (or even walk) to the WAH campus during the school day. They barely let them walk down the hall to swim at the PBES pool.

    I very much hope that no deal has been struck to let the PBES pool go if we get a fancy aquatics center at WAH. I can certainly understand why the reporter thought it looked that way.

    I would note that the competitive Olympic swimmers from our region trained primarily in the private members-only summer pools that were created in the era of segregation. The PBES pool, in contrast, was built when the City of Takoma Park gave the land for the school to MCPS, under a very specific agreement that it would become a visionary community center, serving a diverse low-income area, and would bring parents into the school. The pool is the last vestige of that dream.

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