The Crusader Newspaper Group

Washington Park pool to reopen for summer amid Crusader investigation

This article is part of a broader, ongoing collaborative investigation into disparities in public pool access across various wards of Chicago. The investigation has unveiled a pattern of pool closures predominantly affecting Chicago’s Black wards, sparking concerns over the potential disproportionate impact on these communities.

Washington Park’s popular outdoor pool will reopen June 23 after being closed for two years, multiple sources confirmed to the Crusader during its ongoing investigation of the Chicago Park District’s closure of 28 pools in the city’s Black wards last summer.

Located next to the Washington Park fieldhouse, the pool will offer aquatic classes that are currently being worked out, sources told the Crusader.

Last month during a visit to the facility, a Crusader journalist observed a plumber’s truck parked outside and plumbers working in the pool’s pump room. The massive pool remains empty, but this week, two orange traffic cones sat in the middle of the pool.

The Park District has not officially announced which pools it will close because of an ongoing lifeguard shortage. Last month, the Park District closed all of its indoor pools until June 23, when it will announce what pools will be operable and open for the summer season.

Washington Park’s outdoor pool is expected to be among those that will open. Located at 5531 S. King Drive, the pool is surrounded by Washington Park’s trees and lush landscape. One of the largest in the Park District, the pool has served residents in Alderman Jeanette Taylor’s 20th Ward for decades. The main pool includes a 50 meter Olympic-sized section with eight lanes. Connected to the main pool is a kidney-shaped side pool with a zero-depth entrance that gradually gets deeper. There’s a separate pool that includes a 36-foot water slide. In addition, the pool has an enormous deck and stadium seating.

Before the closure, hundreds of residents in Washington Park and Bronzeville frequented the pool to cool down during the summer.

Maintenance and repair documents the Crusader obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show work has been done on parts of the pool during the two years it has been closed.

On January 13, 2022, a fire occurred at the Washington Park fieldhouse, but no details on the damage were provided in the property damage report.

Last year, Washington Park’s pool was among 28 pools in Black wards closed during the summer under Park District CEO and Superintendent Rosa Escareño. She was appointed by then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot after Park District CEO Mike Kelly resigned amid the Park District’s lifeguard sexual abuse scandal.

A Crusader investigation showed Washington Park was among six pools in the 20th Ward closed in 2021. Four of those facilities are indoor pools that had been closed year round. Alderman Taylor did not respond to the Crusader’s request for comment despite promises by her spokesperson Jeremy Wade.

It’s unclear whether two other large popular outdoor pools, at Tuley Park and Palmer Park, in Alderman William Hall’s (6th) and Anthony Beale’s (9th) wards, respectively, will reopen this summer after they were closed in 2022.

Last year, Beale expressed disappointment after the Palmer Park pool was closed during the summer. He and Alderman Raymond Lopez (15th) questioned the Park District’s efforts in stepping up its recruitment of lifeguards during the year before the summer season.

In Alderman Stephanie Coleman’s 16th Ward last year, Lindblom and Ogden outdoor pools remained open after several residents lobbied her to persuade the Park District as it decided which pools to close. Coleman confirmed those efforts during a brief telephone conversation with the Crusader last month. Coleman said she is working with unions to boost the hourly wage for lifeguards, which is $16.19.

The city has also laid out new incentives to hire guards, including a $600 bonus. The Park District will also waive the lifeguard certification fees and will offer free tickets to Chicago Fire matches and one-day passes to Lollapalooza.

Applicants seeking to become Chicago lifeguards must pass a 200-yard swim test and retrieve a mannequin in deep water.

The American Lifeguard Association said the lifeguard shortage is expected to be worse this year.

According to the organization, more than 33 percent of public pools last summer were impacted, whether by curtailed hours, reduced programs or outright closures.

Some cities are offering big incentives and boosting pay in the hopes of attracting candidates, but it’s too soon to tell if this will turn the tide.

In Black wards the potential closures will be felt the hardest. While North Side residents may be able to enjoy pools at private clubs, gyms, and luxury apartments and condominiums, residents on the South and West sides have few such facilities. Many residents and families frequent the District’s free public pools during the summer.

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