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Archive for Sunday, March 23, 1997

CITY WRACKED OVER POOL

March 23, 1997

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— A proposed swimming pool has become a divisive issue in Baldwin.

To borrow a line from The Music Man, there's trouble right here.

That's trouble, which starts with T, which rhymes with P, which stands for pool, as in a $2 million municipal swimming pool project whose fate will be decided by voters on April 1.

Supporters and opponents alike use words like heated, nasty and divisive in describing the pool campaign, which will come to a head during the election after years of discussion.

"What I hate about this is it's pitting neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend," said Doris Scraper, a leading opponent of the project. "I do hate that it's kind of dividing the community."

Indeed, opinions differ sharply in this town of about 3,700 people.

Some see a facility that will serve the growing community well into the 21st century, anchor an attractive recreation park and become a drawing card for the city.

Others see wild extravagance, an unacceptable price tag and potential safety problems for Baldwin children.

Supporters' corner

The proposed pool would be located on land currently owned by Baker University. Current plans call for an 8,000-square-foot basin with a diving well and lap lanes.

It's a smaller version of the Lawrence Aquatic Center, which opened last summer, and would replace the current municipal pool at Grove Park.

Funding comes from proceeds from the one-cent countywide sales tax approved by county voters in 1994 and a half-cent sales tax OK'd by Baldwin residents in November.

Nancy Arnold and Patty Irick, members of a task force that helped develop the pool plan based on guidelines set by the city council, say the plan is attractive for a variety of reasons.

"If you can see 30, 40, 50 years down the road, then the place for the pool is in North Park," Arnold said. "It's a long-term solution."

The Grove Park pool, built in 1968, is in poor shape, they say, and renovating the pool or building a new pool at the site is not a cost-efficient option.

Arnold and Irick said that when they joined the task force, both favored centering the project in Grove Park. Later, they became convinced the park wasn't the right location, because of concerns such as lack of parking space and inadequate space for a modern pool.

Baker's plans for the North Park area also weighed into their decision. The university would like to create a massive recreation area with tennis courts, a baseball stadium, youth baseball fields, soccer fields and an amphitheater, among other features.

The park would be used by Baker and Baldwin.

Counterpoint

Few argue that the city doesn't need a pool.

But while pool plans were being developed, some residents started grumbling that Baldwin also needed better roads and a better electrical system, not only to accommodate growth but to bring the infrastructure up to snuff for current residents.

That's where Doris Scraper came in. A 64-year-old homemaker, Scraper had never been involved in politics before the pool issue came along.

Now she's a leading critic, having spearheaded petition drives that forced the November sales-tax vote and the upcoming election.

"We're in favor of a pool where the pool is now," she said. "The main reason is for the safety of the kids, and the location of the pool they're talking about."

Scraper and other critics contend that by placing the pool north of U.S. Highway 56, the city is putting children in jeopardy. Because the majority of the city lies south of the highway, some residents fear what will happen when scores of children start pouring across the highway daily on their way to the pool.

Although supporters argue that children already cross the highway daily -- Baldwin High School and Baldwin Junior High are just down the street from the proposed North Park -- critics say the safety concerns don't stop there.

"There's no money for sidewalks or paving in this bond issue," Scraper said, adding that a half-mile of a child's trip to the pool will be on a narrow dirt road with no walks.

Safety isn't Scraper's only concern. She said the city could have renovated and enlarged the Grove Park pool for about half the cost of the North Park facility, and that the city has grossly overestimated its projections of revenue that the pool would generate.

Scraper also has complained about the tactics of various people and groups involved in the issue. She accused Baker of pressuring its students to vote for the sales tax and criticized a city council member for contributing to a pro-pool group.

She has reported such complaints to county officials. No legal violations were found.

Central issue

Arnold and Irick said the issue boils down to a core struggle in Baldwin. Once primarily a retirement community, the city is now drawing more young families who are attracted to Baldwin's small-town atmosphere and closeness to larger towns such as Lawrence and Kansas City.

The population shift has created a tug-of-war between old-timers and newcomers.

"Some people don't want it to change; they don't want it to grow," Arnold said.

Scraper didn't see the issue in exactly those terms, but she said she got involved in the issue partly to protect the interests of longtime residents.

"It's more or less the little guy going up against Baker and a lot of newcomers," she said.

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