Pooling their resources


On a day apt for a dip, Mayor Michael Nutter, last Thursday, announced that all 70 municipal pools will be open June 18. His declaration occurred at Sacks Playground, 400 Washington Ave., whose pool had become one of the 27 casualties — along with Barry Playground, 18th and Bigler streets, Chew Playground, 19th Street and Washington Avenue, O’Connor Pool, 26th and South streets, and Stinger Square, 3200 Reed St., — of last year’s City economic crunch.

The openings represent victory for Nutter’s Splash and Summer FUNd, a pool fundraising campaign in its second year of salvaging aquatic opportunities for residents, especially youths. A partnership with First Niagara Financial Group, Inc., — whose President and Chief Executive Offi cer John R. Koelmel attended the announcement — enables the campaign to hit its $600,000 privatesector goal.

The City has 73 pools in its system. It has converted two of them to “spraygrounds,” areas that spray water from mounted structures and geysers. The other has become a facility for rainwater harvesting.

Last year, only 46 pools opened, including fi ve in South Philly. This figure was a definite improvement over the 10 that would have opened had Nutter not begun the campaign in February 2009, but still not a full offering. The mayor met with Koelmel last April to discuss sustaining the pools’ existence.

Koelmel’s involvement in the situation could not have been more timely. A month before the April tete-a-tete, the City had imposed a May 31 deadline to obtain the funds necessary to prevent another summer with limited recreational options.  Those present last Thursday came to show their happiness over the success of that early spring session.

Sporting their usual bright raiment, four Mummers delighted the crowd pre-announcement with “Alabama Jubilee,” a New Year’s standard, “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” and other easily identifi able tunes. With the Mummers Museum only two blocks away at 1100 S. Second St., the quartet showed pride in their craft by encouraging a mini sing-along.

Approximately 50 students from George Washington Elementary School, 1198 S. Fifth St., expressed their jubilation, with sixth- through eighth-graders displaying signs bearing the benefi ts of pools, and pre-kindergarteners donning sunglasses and bouncing beach balls.

“I definitely plan to use this pool,” eighth-grader and Student Council President Michael Hall, who is a West Philadelphia resident, said as he held up a sign “promote and reinforce a healthy lifestyle through exercise and physical activity.”
Such activity certainly motivated Nutter’s efforts to present an ample slate of pools. Recalling his childhood days of enjoying the Christy Recreation Center pool, 728 S. 55th St., Nutter hopes that memories at the pools are equally enjoyable for the city’s children.

“Look at Philadelphia,” Nutter said. “We’ve got sunshine, we’ve got blue skies, now we need pools!”

He then gave a lesson in numbers.

“Last year we had one million visits to our pools. This year we plan to increase that by 333,000 and create 800 jobs in the process,” he said.

Those jobs will benefit many teenagers and college students, keeping them active in the community. “People may say ‘Why all the hoopla?’” Michael DiBerardinis, Commissioner of the Parks and Recreation Department, whose mascot Phred the Panda fraternized with the youngsters, said. “Well, these pools encourage community development and show our young people how to make the most of their time.”

Nutter tabbed DiBerardinis and Department of Recreation Commissioner Susan Slawson to guide the fund. Seventy percent of the $200,000 raised prior to Thursday’s announcement had come from six private donations, among them, gifts from Lombard Swim Club, the Philadelphia Parking Authority and Modell’s Sporting Goods. The remaining quarter had derived from City budget dollars.

Enter Koelmel and First Niagara. The Western New York-based bank acquired 57 National City branches in Western Pennsylvania last September. With the completion of its Harleysville National Corporation acquisition in early April, First Niagara began operations in Eastern Pennsylvania.

While meeting with Nutter in April, Koelmel offered his assistance.

“He said, ‘I think I can help you out’ even before I got to ask him,” a smiling Nutter said. “This donation will assist our Recreation Department to ensure that our vital services will be open this year.”

At the gathering, Koelmel presented Nutter with an oversized $400,000 check.  Koelmel sees the agreement as a huge plus for the “wonderful and vibrant city of Philadelphia.”

“This is not a one-time moment. I want to keep these pools open for many years to come,” he said.

Sacks’ pool will become the 70th to open, hence the location of the announcement.

“We really wanted a celebration after the situation from last year,” Alain Joinville, public affairs and special projects coordinator with the Department of Parks andRecreation, said.

That celebration included the reading of essays by George Washington eighth graders, including Hall, who spoke of a pool’s ability to “increase the fitness of a community.”

“I think we may have another mayor named Michael really soon,” Slawson said chuckling after Hall’s reading.

In addition to the $400,000 endowment for the pools, Koelmel’s company also blessed 13 YMCA associations and 35 Y branches with a $250,000 grant program to underwrite free YMCA children’s swimming lessons.

For his generosity, two pre-kindergarteners offered a lifesaver bearing the words “First Niagara saves the pools” to Koelmel.

The metaphoric gift symbolizes the City’s appreciation for new opportunities.  “You are our lifesaver, John,” Slawson said.

“The pools will be open from 11 [a.m.] to 7 [p.m.] during the week and from 1 to 6 [p.m] on weekends,” Joinville said.

Opening day will nicely dovetail with the closing of the School District school year.

“What day does school end?” Nutter asked the children.

“June 18th!” many shouted.

“Good. You can go to school in the morning and swim in the afternoon,” Nutter, wearing a lifeguard shirt, visor and a lanyard with a whistle attached, said. Blowing the whistle, he said, “This is the sound you will soon hear.”

Other sounds quickly followed. Following the explosion of confetti cannons and the dumping of confetti buckets on Nutter, the Mummers struck up “Happy Days Are Here Again,” while the eager children feasted on bananas, apples, juice, popcorn and soft pretzels. In only a few days, they will be wading through welcoming waters.

Koelmel wants those days and their successors to be perpetually happy.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to fi ll up your pools,” he said.

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at jmyers@southphillyreview.com or ext. 124.