Monday, June 14, 2021

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Maxwell Town Pool to close permanently

The rally cry of the Maxwell community four years ago to reopen the Town Pool was permanently silenced last week, after property owners made it clear the summer recreational facility is neither wanted nor needed.

The Town Pool, built in 1950 to help kids escape 100 degree heat, met the same fate it did more than a dozen years ago, when operators announced the gates must close due to lack of funding.

Prior to the reopening in 2016, the pool had been closed for eight years before the community came together to fund the repairs that were needed at the time. The pool has also enjoyed continued support since then, primarily from the business community, who have paid for most of the labor and chemicals by sponsoring free swim days. The rest is raised through snack bar sales and fundraisers, Maxwell Park and Recreation District officials said.

“It’s not really a way to run the pool because it was never going to be sustainable,” said MPR Director and Pool Manger Sharol Kuska. “There are major repairs that have to be done, and then there will be more repairs that have to be done.”

The MPR District, which operates the pool, had asked property owners for approximately $35 more per year per parcel to replace the $17,000 filtration system, a requirement to open next summer, and provide a funding stream for the additional expenses, including an $80,000 overlay, which would be required in a few years, along with ADA restrooms and a new roof.   

Had the tax increase passed, it would be the first since the district was formed at $15 per parcel in 1985, officials said.

The Proposition 218 election was defeated 73 percent to 27 percent on Aug. 10, according to Election Administrator Cesar Casillas, of MK Election Services, who counted the ballots and certified the election results.

“I guess that’s that,” said a disappointed Tish Nerli, who came down to the Community Center on Aug. 10 to witness the ballot count. “The community has spoken.”

Nerli’s mother, Ollie Reckers, had been a huge supporter of the pool since it was first opened in 1950, and had hoped property owners would have seen the continued value of providing youth with the recreational opportunity.

The pool, which has served four generations of Maxwell residents, is expected to close permanently at the end of this season.

“It’s sad,” said Danny Dunkun, 13, who just started coming to the pool when it reopened the last time. “I can’t even explain it. We knew it might close.”

MPR President Kyle Miller said the failure of the Proposition 218 election is catastrophic to the district, which has little hope of maintaining or improving other services on an assessment that is 85 to 90 percent lower than similar sized districts, including Arbuckle, whose residents pay $110 per year, more than double the $45.37 per year Maxwell had requested.

The MPR District approved a Capital Improvement Plan in 2018 as a roadmap to help them make step-by-step improvements, including applying for grants and USDA loans to develop a park on railroad property, and create a functional community center for congregate activities for youth, adults, and senior citizens, neither of which are likely possible without community support (tax assessment), Miller said.

Miller said it is unclear if COVID-19 had anything to do with the rejection of the measure, but the Proposition 218 process had already been in the works when the pandemic started.

MPR Director Andre Young said he has not given up hope, and would like to see the community come together again to support recreational programs. One of his goals is to have ADA compliant restrooms and make other needed improvements to the community center so it becomes a usable resource for activities and fundraisers, in addition to reopening the pool.

“I’m the guy who looks at the glass as half full,” Young said. “I still think it’s all doable. We just have to find a way to get it done.”

Meanwhile, the pool is open until Saturday, Aug. 29, or until the chemicals run out. There is no charge to swim, Kuska said.

“I come here a lot, mostly every day,” said Erik New, 12, who was at the pool last week. “A lot of people come here to cool off, hang out, and get food and drink from the snack bar.”

Robert Bradley Waite Jr. 14, said he also enjoys coming to the pool.

“I like the lifeguards,” Waite said. “They’re a lot of fun and nice, and the water’s cold.”

Lifeguard Berto Lara said he is disappointed the youth of Maxwell will no longer have the pool as a recreational resource.

“A whole lot of kids come here to have fun and cool down,” Lara said. “These are hot summer days and it’s getting hotter. The pool is basically the only way to cool down.”

Lara fears that with the pool closure, kids will go back to swimming in canals and irrigation ditches, which was one of the reasons the Town Pool was constructed in the mid-20th century.

“There is a lot of danger in places that are not meant for swimming, which can lead to death,” Lara said. “Here in the pool, we have lifeguards looking after these guys. We have our own little system.”

Lara, like Young, still has hope that things will change for Maxwell in the future.

“This is a really tough situation that we are in now,” Lara said. “Hopefully, in the future, we could open again.”

The MPR board said it would continue to provide what programs they can when the pandemic is over, such as basketball, along with movies in the park and other small activities that fit their budget, even though fundraising will still be needed.

They also plan to keep the community center as the district’s office, as it provides a central location to keep track of property that belongs to the taxpayers, Miller said.

“I know that some people did not want us to buy this building,” Miller said. “But it is a decision I do not regret. It was a good investment.”

The community center is also used to store USDA commodities for distribution to low-income families.

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