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The story of Carbondale’s Super Splash Park to date:
10+Years in the Making
The Carbondale Human Relations Commission (HRC) inaugurated Carbondale Conversations for Community Action in September, 2003. This, after concerns raised by citizens following a shooting that left one teen dead and clashes between city law enforcement and SIU students of color.
The first round of Carbondale Conversations for Community Action took place in the Spring of 2004. The topic was Building Strong Neighborhoods. Over 100 people participated in 10 small groups. At the Culminating Action Forum participants were most concerned that action groups focus on getting a swimming pool for Carbondale and on improving housing and neighborhoods. Other topics included beautification, promoting diversity, student-city relations, and a focus on Buckminster Fuller.
The Carbondale Aquatic Complex Committee developed into a strong coalition of various interests; they did research on other communities with pools and arranged public presentations; they became a citizens' advisory committee through the Carbondale Park District Board to develop the best route to their goal: an aquatic center for Carbondale residents that is accessible to as many people for as many uses as possible. In 2011 the Park District received a grant which allowed them to move towards a Splash Park, due to open in 2015.
June 2004 the HRC assembled the Carbondale Aquatics Center Committee.
November 2004 the committee facilitated public presentations by 3 aquatic facility building and design firms. The intent was to give citizens a chance to see what current trends were in pool design. The idea of a rectangle shaped body of water in the ground has long gone by the wayside.
The firms also provided information on how other communities developed their aquatic facilities.
In addition, the committee surveyed 9 communities from our region who had aquatic facilities to look at their construction and operating costs including expenses and revenues.
April 2005 the committee requested funding from city council to have the city staff update a feasibility study that had been done in 1998 regarding an aquatic facility in Carbondale.
June 2005 updated feasibility study was completed and released by the city to the public in. The results of this updated feasibility study done by the city showed projected costs, revenues, and admission fees that were more consistent with the finding of the committee’s survey done of the 9 regional communities and their aquatic facilities.
July 2006 the committee requested funding from the Board to produce a survey. The committee determined that, while support for aquatic facility appeared to be there, it was time to do a formal survey of the residents to better assess actual support.
August 2006 the committee requested to be a recognized citizen advisory committee to the Carbondale Park District Board of Commissioners.
September 2006 the committee and the Carbondale Park District sent out 8600 surveys. Data was collected through October 5 with an 11% return rate. Results of the survey showed a response consistent with the recommendations of the 2003 results of the Carbondale Conversations for Community Action.
Spring 2007 Carbondale Park District Board members approved funds to employ Westport Pools to develop a schematic that would identify the size, shape and dimensions of the pool, and what amenities or features to be developed within that plan based on the research the aquatics center committee has already done. Additionally, Westport Pools is also developing cost estimates for construction and operations.
January 2009 the committee and the Carbondale Park District team up with the SIU School of Architecture and Design to have students design a Bath House for the proposed aquatic facility.
2010 the Carbondale Park District applied for Park and Recreational Facility Construction (PARC) grant processed through the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) to help fund the outdoor aquatic facility.
September 2011 the Carbondale Park District was awarded the Park and Recreational Facility Construction (PARC) grant for $2.5 million. Projected cost of construction is $3.4 million. A goal of raising $900,000 through a capital campaign began.
September 2013 Carbondale Park District breaks ground on pool construction with an anticipated grand opening date of May 30, 2015.
Carbondale Board of Commissioners President, Harvey Welch addresses crowd at groundbreaking.
For some on committee, it felt like having to dig the hole with a teaspoon!
March 11, 2015 Illinois Governor suspends all state grant projects. Construction halted on pool.
March 17, 2015 Capital Campaign realizes goal of $900,000 raised.
April 7, 2015 Dr. Wallace J Nichols presents “Blue Mind” at Southern Illinois University to members of the campus and Carbondale community. Citizens learn about the neuroscience that shows how being in, on, or under water can make you happier, healthier, more connected, and better at what you do.
Dr. Wallace J Nichols visits the site where construction is halted after IDNR suspends all grant projects due to Illinois Budget Impasse
October, 2015 Carbondale Park District receives notice from Illinois Department of Natural Resources that grant monies expended through March 9, 2015 have been released and that construction may resume on the project. The caveat being that there is no guarantee of grant reimbursement for any expenditures incurred after March 9, 2015. Risk to the Park District was determined to be a possible $300,000 shortfall in grant monies.
November, 2015 Construction resumes on the project which was already over 70% complete with an opening date slated for May 28, 2016. Fundraising efforts continue. Make a donation
Construction site from above showing work completed before grant project suspended. Photo courtesy of Thomas Publishing.
May 28, 2016 The long awaited new Carbondale Super Splash Park opens to an enthusiastic crowd.
5 year old Lafayette’s mom told us he has gone from crying if he got splashed in the face to swimming underwater non-stop in just 4 weeks…
The history behind our story and why this is so much more than a pool :
(excerpts taken from research paper written by Michael Ann Johnson, April 2013 entitled “Swimming the Bitterly Cold Waters of the Civil Rights Movement: A Social History of Swimming Pools in Southern Illnois”)
Technically, Carbondale residents did not have their own swimming pool. However, the Park District used the beaches of nearby Crab Orchard Lake for their “swimming program.” It was extremely popular and year after year, the park district had to increase the size of the program even when other recreational programs lost attendance. Carbondale did not offer swimming to the residents of the northeast section until June 1953. Conveniently, Crab Orchard Lake had a “black beach,” so without upsetting whites, the park district could offer swimming to African American children while minimizing white anxiety about interracial swimming. It was also one of the only places, besides strip-pits and dirty rivers, for African Americans to swim in Southern Illinois. Therefore, Crab Orchard provided political cover to Carbondale’s Park District because it accommodated both whites and blacks with swimming, while avoiding the political challenge of building its own integrated municipal swimming pool. Possibly because Crab Orchard was a federally funded lake, it is difficult to find sources on its “black beach.” Native residents recall its existence but documentation is scarce. The segregated beach existed well into the 1960s when all federal facilities had to integrate because of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. Finally, in 1976 the beaches of Crab Orchard were no longer an option for Carbondale’s Park District due to toxic contamination.
In 1960, the Carbondale Park District realized that Carbondale needed a municipal swimming pool of its own. The program continued to outgrow its capacity and Crab Orchard Lake was starting to show signs of contamination.
The Park District hired an architect to design several projects from a swimming pool to a nine-hole golf course, as well as several modifications and upgrades to existing park structures. In 1963, after the plans were completed, the project required a vote by the citizens. Unfortunately, members of the Park District did not consider that the racial struggles within Southern Illinois and the nation at large had informed the voters of Carbondale. The concept of an integrated swimming pool was too much for this racially divided community. When the plan went up for a vote in 1963, it was defeated handily in all quadrants.
It appears that the defeat devastated the Park District. Notes from the board meetings that had been so detailed and meticulous suddenly changed to brief, disjointed thoughts, scant of any substance, and the next three years worth fit easily into one tiny binder.
While no discussion of the cause of the defeat can be found in the notes, a daily barrage of violent clashes nationally between whites and blacks covered the front pages of the Southern Illinoisan. National court rulings offered mixed messages stating swimming pools were “more sensitive than schools,” yet when the court rulings favored African American integration, city officials closed them to avoid racial violence and ultimately interracial swimming. In addition, one must remember that Southern Illinois is a mixture of both northern and southern attitudes, and it would not be difficult to suggest that white residents of Carbondale did not want to swim with African Americans.
In 1968, Carbondale’s Park District received a 50/50 grant from Housing and Urban Development, (“HUD”) for the sole purpose of building a swimming pool. The pool had to be located in a neighborhood that was accessible for African Americans. The City of Carbondale also received a housing grant to build and refurbish homes in the northeast and northwest sections of town. Both the City of Carbondale and the Park District contacted Southern Illinois University to ask for advice, and all three collaborated on a rather modest proposal of building an ice skating rink and a swimming pool.
It would be located in the northwest section of town, near the Carbondale Community High School. HUD accepted the proposal and guaranteed the park district $259,000. The total proposed bond, which included improvement to existing parks, was $600,000. On September 30, 1968, the residents of Carbondale, again, overwhelmingly voted the proposition down, this time rejecting federal funds that would relieve some of the tax burden. After this vote, members of the Park District blamed themselves for not winning the “public good-will” stating, “We failed to sell the advantages to the community.” The Commissioner felt there was a “splintering of issues that led to the rationalizing of the „NO. vote. . .[however] he felt that the pool plan was a good deal for the money.” While this proposal may have been a good deal on paper, socially the white residents did not feel it was a good deal, for it meant including residents from the northeast quadrant.
In 1973 and 1975, Carbondale’s Park District would again attempt to pass the pool proposal that contained the HUD grant. Each time it was defeated. Mr. George Whitehead, then Director of the Carbondale Park District, assisted with both campaigns, speaking to “more than one hundred groups over a ten-week period.” His efforts could not counter the opposition groups that had formed. They feverously bussed in elderly residents from the quadrant where the pool was to be built, knowing they would oppose it. “I knew the referendum was already defeated, I knew it. . . .They weren’t poor—it was because it was going to cost them taxes.”
The Southern Illinoisan called for a “Taxpayer Revolt” until “each of our fund-hungry taxing districts . . . sit down for some hard negotiations.” They were incensed because they felt the Park District and the school districts ignored “autonomous districts.” Autonomous districts meant the equivalent of quadrants. The tone of the editorial was sarcastic and defensive, highlighting the public displeasure with the pool proposal. Clearly, they did not want to “be asked to finance a municipal swimming pool or other city improvements” that would benefit other quadrants. They wanted their taxes to remain within their own quadrant and alerted taxpayers to protest through the vote.
Mr. Whitehead wanted the pool location relocated because he knew the intent of the HUD project agitated white residents.
“I kept saying „it doesn’t matter. Forget HUD! Go to a site that will be acceptable to a majority of constituents. You have your whole northwest neighborhood up in arms and [just like] they were in ‘73, when [the Park District] did this [referendum] before.
Because they did not want it in their neighborhood . . . . They didn’t want Northeast Carbondale coming across the tracks, across Highway 51 into their neighborhood..”
Mr. Whitehead knew racism would keep Carbondale from building a pool. He believed a school site would offer a safe harbor for the residents “because people were already used to going to school [with African Americans.]”
A letter to the editor complained that the park district was trying to disenfranchise white voters by only opening one polling station on the “west side,” while voters on the “east side” would have a much easier time. The writer felt the bond issue was a “white elephant,” and “not even Chicago Mayor Richard Daley [would try] anything this transparent.” The “us against them” attitude contained in this letter is striking. Calling out the geographic boundaries within Carbondale illuminates how the writer feels about persons on the “east side,” which is the de facto segregated section of Carbondale where African Americans live. The writer did not want any advantages offered to people on the “east side” such as ease of voting or enjoyment of amenities like a swimming pool. What is particularly interesting is that the writer attached a color to his complaint. It appears he transposed white for black with his criticism of the “white elephant,” meaning the pool. His letter certainly strikes at the core of racial tensions in Carbondale. Finally, after three attempts by the Park District to pass a resolution that all failed, Carbondale lost its grant from HUD.
In the mid 1980s, Carbondale’s YMCA fell into financial disarray. The association approached the Park District, asking them if they were interested in the pool. They were and the District assumed the YMCA.s debt of $400,000 in return for ownership of the pool. The Park District renovated the facility for an additional $400,000, adding a new filtration system and building a new parking lot. Mr. Whitehead states, “You can imagine when all of a sudden it becomes a community wide facility.” It was quite busy. However, Mr. Whitehead found “that the residents [had a] mentality that it should be virtually free.” However, Carbondale finally gained a swimming pool, even though it is in the southwestern quadrant, which is essentially all white. Even though the residents had access to a pool, many have complained it is not an outdoor facility. They have stated they wished it was outside where they could enjoy the sun and swim with family and friends.
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