Philly’s coronavirus response

Philly public pools will not open this summer, because of budget cuts — and virus worries

Residents will have to go without neighborhood swim spots this year.

Kelly Pool in Fairmount Park

Kelly Pool in Fairmount Park

Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

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Philadelphia residents will be without access to public pools this summer, city officials confirmed on Thursday, due to budget cuts and worries about continued coronavirus spread.

“We are not going to be opening the pools this summer,” said Marisa Waxman, the city’s budget director.

The six dozen swimming spots, which usually begin opening mid-June and stay open through the end of August, will remain closed — primarily because of the stranglehold the coronavirus has inflicted on the city’s pocketbook.

Plus, city officials aren’t sure if we’ll be allowed outside as normal by the time pools would normally open. And even if things clear up by July, it’d be hard to hire staff for just part of the season.

“We’re not certain yet that the additional social distancing we’ve had to put in place…will be enough for this summer,” said Jim Engler, chief of staff to Mayor Jim Kenney.

In a briefing about the mayor’s revisions to his proposed fiscal year 2021 budget, administration officials described substantial cuts to handfuls of city departments to make up the $649 million hole caused by the pandemic-induced recession. The Parks Department, which operates the 75 or so city pools, is among them.

All libraries and rec centers will stay open, officials said, but public spaces will likely see reduced hours, and there will be less funding available for programming and events.

There’s no evidence that the coronavirus can survive in pool water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. General pool maintenance, like disinfecting with chlorine, should kill the virus on contact.

Pool closures are always a major bummer for Philadelphians, since they’re known in each neighborhood as a community hub. When Fishtown’s Swimmo pool closed for three summers in a row, neighbors were crushed. Same thing when the pool in Bridesburg had to shutter for construction.

Bridesburg swimming instructor Jackie Desanctis — known by pool-goers as Miss Jackie — worked at the Northeast Philly pool for 59 years before it closed in 2018 to be fully rebuilt. She called the pool “the center of the neighborhood every summer,” and estimated that 300 kids visit the pool each week.

“The pools are a really important hub for everyone in the summer to have a public space,” Fishtown resident Oren Eisenberg told Billy Penn in 2018.

In deciding what to cut, the mayor’s office said it prioritized three things: keeping Philadelphians safe, keeping Philadelphians healthy, and keeping Philadelphians educated. Seasonal staffers usually hired to run the city pools did not fall into those categories.

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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