By Elinor Holland
Despite a last ditch effort by a city councilmember, Berkeley’s Willard Pool is scheduled to shut today, Wednesday June 30.
The City Council on Tuesday voted down a plan put forward by Gordon Wozniak to keep the pool open by diverting payments from employee health club benefits to the to the pool. The proposal, suggested to Wozniak by George Beier, President of the Willard Neighborhood Association, would have infringed on union contracts.
The mood at Willard Pool was somber on Tuesday, as swimmers grappled with the realization that the facility would soon be shuttered.
“It leaves us without a wonderful resource,” said Carolyn Kolka, who has been swimming three or four times a week at the pool for 30 years. “It’s so sad. Every year, we fight for it, we have swim-a-thons, and this year, we lost.”
During the daytime public swim hours the pool facility is filled with people who come to play in the two pools, deeper dive pool, and shallow/lap pool. The feeling is very family-oriented. Children come with their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to play around in the water; everyone has a big smile on their face and looks like they are having fun.
“It’s cool—we love it!” says John, 18, a regular swimmer. He and his friends, Devantae Hills, 13, and Errius Jackson, 17, all from the neighborhood, have been coming almost every day this summer.
Kids-in-Motion childcare program counselor, Gina Morri, says that the campers have been to the pool three times this summer.
“We usually go once a week, but since the pool is closing soon, we’ve tried to squeeze in as many visits as possible,” said Morri. “We’re very sad. The kids are pretty upset; this is where a lot of them learned to swim.”
Patrons at the pool must now find another place to swim, which some say will be inconvenient.
“It’s definitely a hardship,” said Lupe Alcala, who has been taking his son to the summer swim sessions for three years “I think that we’ll have to start going to King Pool.”
Some people are worried that without a pool to come to, neighborhood kids will be less physically active.
“I’m outraged!” said Eve Arbogast, a teacher. “It’s right after school lets out, there isn’t much else for the kids to do. You know, with the obesity problem and everything…”
Berkeley is not only losing a pool, it is losing a valuable community center for people to exercise, swim recreationally, and get to know their neighbors.