Archive for Sunday, April 11, 2004

Spread it around

The story of a tiny neighborhood swimming pool may offer a lesson for those who do the planning for various public facilities in Lawrence.

April 11, 2004

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Realtors always say that the three biggest factors in the value of a house are location, location and location.

The same dictum applies to many businesses and attractions, including recreation facilities, as illustrated by neighborhood concern over an East Lawrence swimming pool that has fallen into disrepair and may be forced to close.

The neighborhood-owned County Fair Swim Club pool is located at Maple Lane and Clare Road near Kennedy School. Although many Lawrence people don't even know it exists, it has been an important source of recreation especially for neighborhood children for 43 years. It was donated by the developers of the neighborhood, which owns shares in the pool. Family memberships raise about $6,000 a year to cover the operation of the pool, but it now could take as much as $75,000 to put it back in shape.

As far as features, the tiny County Fair pool doesn't hold a candle to the elaborate Lawrence Aquatic Center downtown. It's about one-tenth the size and has one diving board. There are no spiral slides or lily pad fountains, but for the children of the neighborhood, it is the place to be.

Children who can't afford memberships are allowed to do chores to cover the price of admission. The pool manager says that some children, who perhaps don't have much supervision at home, are at the pool from the time it opens until it closes at 9 or 10 p.m. They can walk there or ride their bikes. People know them and they feel comfortable there.

The situation at the County Fair pool offers a reminder that city officials should consider as they plan public facilities. Whether you're talking about pools, tennis courts or libraries, location is key. The Lawrence Aquatic Center is great for children who can get there and afford it, but for the children who live nearby, the County Fair pool's convenient location makes it the pool of choice.

The same principle should be considered by those who are making plans to expand the Lawrence Public Library. Is the community better-served by one mega-library or by a central library with a number of neighborhood branches? What attracts the greatest number of people?

The city debated this idea a number of years ago when some city commissioners and recreation officials became fixated on building a huge, expensive recreation complex in Centennial Park. Although the center was envisioned as a "destination attraction" that would draw many visitors from out of town, the project eventually was shelved. One of the arguments against it was that the community might be better served by small, neighborhood recreation facilities than by a mega-center that had to charge fees for everyone who used it in order to cover its operating costs.

Lawrence has talked a lot about the value of neighborhood schools as centers of activities and social interaction. The same might be said of other public facilities such as recreation centers and libraries. Planners of public facilities should consider what business owners already know: A convenient location is essential to bringing customers to the door.

Having the best facilities in the region is nice, but the County Fair pool reminds us that locating facilities so their services reach a maximum number of people is an even more important goal.

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