Baldwin About a dozen residents are circulating petitions here seeking a citywide vote on the question of where to build a new municipal swimming pool.
``We just started collecting the names,'' said Alice Anne Russell, one of two chief organizers of the petition drive. ``We'll try and get it on the city council agenda in maybe two or three weeks. We're trying to get as many signatures as possible. We need 350 or 400, but we'll try to go beyond that.''
The city council voted 3-2 in December 1997 to build a new pool in Grove Park, replacing the small, deteriorating pool already there. Estimated cost of the new pool is $1.3 million. Construction is tentatively scheduled to begin in August.
The council's controversial decision entailed rejection of another site proposed for the new pool near new residential development north of U.S. Highway 56. The highway cuts through Baldwin north of the central business district. Estimated cost to build a pool in the area called North Park was $1.4 million.
Organizers of the petition drive said Wednesday that the council's choice of a big, new pool in Grove Park pleases no one. Those residents who favored the Grove Park location, they said, are unhappy because they expected a less grand and much cheaper pool than that approved. Other residents who like the idea of a big pool with water slides and other extra features don't mind the cost, but dislike the place the pool is going.
``We either have the wrong pool in the right place or the right pool in the wrong place, depending upon your position on this issue,'' said Peggy Harris, a petition drive organizer who lives near Grove Park and fears the new pool there will create traffic and safety problems.
The swimming pool has been one of the most divisive and emotional issues in recent Baldwin history. It was taken up by a previous city council and has remained a hot topic ever since.
Harris said a citywide vote would make it easier for Baldwin residents to live with whatever outcome results.
``We understand this is a divisive issue for a lot of people,'' Harris said. ``We feel there will be people unhappy however it goes. But rather than have the city council make the decision, isn't the fairest way to go with the majority of the voters? We've been raised in the democratic process. Let's see what majority rule says.''
Most members of the city council, including Mayor Stan Krysztof, were unavailable for comment about the petition or to share their views about making the pool issue a ballot question. The question can't be put to citywide vote without council approval.
But Councilman Lee Whaley, one of the three who voted for the Grove Park location, said he wouldn't necessarily oppose a citywide vote if it were held during the August primary election to avoid the costs of a special election.
Whaley said he personally prefers improvements to the existing pool in Grove Park at a cost of about $500,000. He said he would support a ballot that presented that cheaper choice to voters along with the current Grove Park plan and the North Park alternative.
He said he would oppose a referendum that did no more than offer voters a choice between a $1.4 million pool at North Park or the $1.3 million Grove Park pool.
``I'm totally opposed to that,'' Whaley said, ``because, once again, they're not sitting in the budget meetings or looking at all the mandatory expenditures we have.''
Supporters of the North Park pool option ``do not realize what kind of problem this is going to create for us, if they get their way,'' Whaley said. ``It's not only the pool that's at stake. There are many other things in that park they're expecting the city to pay for, which makes it prohibitive for us.''
Whaley said North Park pool supporters want a full-scale recreation complex that includes biking and rollerblading trails, community buildings and ball diamonds.
Whaley said the pool issue is divisive because it pits longtime residents against newcomers with bigger expectations.
``We have some folks that are coming down wanting all the niceties that they have in Lawrence and some of the other larger towns,'' Whaley said. ``Many of us were in Baldwin at our wishes because it was a small town. We're not really anxious to see it booming and growing into a situation like Gardner and so forth. If they wanted all the features of these larger towns, I wonder why they selected Baldwin.
``I understand there's folks down there with land to sell and houses to build,'' Whaley continued. ``And you can see businesses have reason to want to see some growth. Otherwise, I don't see what the big push is for the thing. I'm part of the older group. Some say we don't care about the kids. But we want to give them something that won't put them in the hole financially.''
-- Mike Shields' phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.