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Commentaryby Bobby Moore2:43 pmJul 20, 20230

Baltimore electeds should own up to their role in this summer’s pool closings

Making sure Rec and Parks does its job – and making sure it gets adequate funding – was your job, City Hall [OP-ED]

Above: The Patterson Park Pool, closed for the season and now drained. Beyond it lies the Ice skating rink. (Bobby Moore)

Summer is in full swing in Baltimore and, as expected in mid-July, it is hot.

As I walk my three-year-old daughter in Patterson Park, she points to the city-run pool and asks, “Daddy, pool ready?”

I have to explain to her that the pool is broken and we can’t swim. She frowns and looks down at the ground.

As I watch my daughter become disappointed, I see other children and families approaching and come to the same realization that they can’t enjoy cooling off in the neighborhood pool.

This depressing situation is facing children, teens, families and lap swimmers across the city who depend on these public pools for recreation and relief from the heat.

The Cherry Hill Splash Park south of us also has been closed for the entire rest of the season because its leaking piping needs to be replaced.

The Clifton Park Pool, in northeast Baltimore, is also experiencing maintenance problems and is closed until further notice.

Three public pools have yet to open in Baltimore, hanging residents out to dry (7/18/23)

It’s not only a drag, but potentially dangerous.

Unable to have fun in a supervised pool, teenagers are hopping the fences of closed facilities.

Police recently disclosed that a 16-year-old who was pulled from the bottom of the then-closed Roosevelt Park Pool in Hampden later died from his injuries.

The kiddie pool at the now-closed Patterson Park pool, its water green and murky. (Bobby Moore)

The kiddie pool at the now-closed Patterson Park Pool, its water green and murky. (Bobby Moore)

Take Responsibility

As I watch news reporting and social media posts on this situation, I see elected officials like Councilman Zeke Cohen characterize this failure as basically a “city agency oversight” issue, and not a funding issue.

The Department of Recreation and Parks was apparently pressed months before the pool season to make needed maintenance fixes and failed to do so.

But I think it is also irresponsible – if convenient – for elected officials to not acknowledge their own role.

Why was no one in City Hall – the mayor, the comptroller, the City Council members and president – pressing Rec and Parks leadership to make sure this basic public amenity for residents was up and running?

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mayor Brandon Scott blamed the age of the facility (“It is a pool that has needed renovations since 20-30 years ago”).

But how did we get to the point of a city facility with broken motors, repeated flooding and a shutdown?

Why are none of these elected officials taking responsibility for their misguided budget priorities over the years, historically shortchanging Rec and Parks?

Casting blame on an agency without proper funding is not accountability – it’s political grandstanding.

Recreation and Parks operations budgets from 2016 for high-density cities compared. (University of Baltimore Journal of Land Development 2019 article

Baltimore spends much less on parks and recreation than its peer cities. (“Creating a Special Benefits District for Patterson Park,” University of Baltimore Journal of Land Development, 2019)

Misplaced Priorities

The agency in charge of public parks and pools has for years gotten among the tiniest slices of the budget pie.

A 2019 University of Baltimore report (see excerpt above) documented how severely underfunded it is compared to other high-density and even medium-density cities.

This lack of adequate funding definitely limits Rec and Parks’ ability to address recurring maintenance and repair issues – such as what happened with the Patterson Park Pool.

Patterson Park pool, closed by Baltimore City Recreation and Parks for the summer for because of mechanical problems. (Laura Fay)

This is how the entrance to the Patterson Park Pool looked earlier this week. (Laura Fay)

It is worth noting that state funding was secured to build a new pool for the Patterson Park community, and I’m grateful to hear that news.

However, what will our city leaders do to ensure that this new pool is adequately staffed and maintained?

Will they advocate for increases in the Rec and Parks budget next year, or keep the current inadequate funding in place?

Are they willing to explore reallocating funding from the $550 million Police Department budget – half a BILLION dollars, the highest per capita in U.S. – to properly fund BCRP?

City officials need to be reflecting on their previous budget priorities in addition to calling for more city agency oversight.

Perhaps if they look inward, show some humility and correct this egregious imbalance, thousands of children and families will be able to cool off in Patterson Park and at other pools for many future summers.

• Bobby Moore is a resident of Patterson Park where he lives with his wife and three-year-old daughter.

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