Maybe we should have seen it coming.
This spring, city budget documents outlined concerns regarding aging parks infrastructure, with the ability to obtain parts for older equipment becoming more of a challenge. Page 177 of a fairly dry financial document took on real meaning over the last week and a half when St. Joseph’s public pools remained devoid of swimmers just as the weather started to heat up.
Summer officially starts in just over two weeks, but you can forgive some for feeling as if it might be months away. June got off to a rough start, with both city pools closed and a proposed splash park, which was included in the voter-approved Capital Improvements Program, still more than a year away on the South Side.
That’s not all. Heritage Park softball fields are again impacted by river water, and the popular Riverwalk could be closed for the rest of the summer. The Noyes Tennis Courts, which are undergoing needed renovations, look as if John McEnroe took a sledgehammer to the playing surface.
Maybe the St. Joseph youth who attend summer school really are the smart ones. At least they get $100 if they complete the obligation.
There’s not much blame to assign here, with Mother Nature, planned renovations, leaking pipes and broken parts conspiring to put a damper on the first weeks of summer vacation for those who enjoy tennis, swimming or walking by the river.
The situation does illustrate the impact of deferred maintenance to aging infrastructure, something that’s as much of an issue with parks facilities as it is with roads and bridges. It’s not just older facilities. The Remington Nature Center, which is fairly new, already needs roof and HVAC repairs.
The good news is that Krug Pool is set to reopen soon, although that didn’t happen Wednesday, with the Aquatic Park possibly ready for the public by weekend. Heritage Park could reopen in three weeks, which would be in time for a major men’s softball tournament in July.
City Parks Director Chuck Kempf tells News-Press NOW that officials are contemplating reduced admission fees to the Aquatic Park, since the large water slides and diving board won’t be open all season because of structural problems with the lap pool. This seems like a good idea.
Going forward, the city can’t do much about the weather, but it can make its parks infrastructure a budget priority. This should be a shared goal with the public, some of whom might question expenditures like $723,000, from a low-interest state loan, to replant trees when there are so many other needs in the city.
Perhaps the city had no choice, with state requirements for tree replacement, but expenditures like that will stick in the craw of residents when they look around at potholes and empty public pools.