Activists rise to support Piney Branch Elementary pool — and win
By Kevin Adler
Once again, the swimming pool at Piney Branch Elementary was slated for closure, and once again local residents rose up to keep it open. On July 28, the county restored funding that had initially cut, and the pool was saved.
Back in the spring, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett did not include funding for the pool in his proposed FY16 county budget. But after hearing about the popularity of the county’s only public pool inside the beltway, the County Council provided the necessary $160,000 for operations and maintenance for the upcoming fiscal year.
However, when more belt-tightening was needed, Leggett proposed cutting pool funding in early July as part of a packag of $51 million in cuts.
Takoma Park residents and others quickly responded. Takoma Park resident Laura Barclay started an online petition through Change.org that had obtained more than 450 signatures by mid-July. “I tried to register to present the petition at the July 28 County Council meeting,” Barclay said, “but they said that they will be talking only about capital expenditures, and the pool is an operating expense. We have been told we can submit the petition by email, but we’re working on a way to present in-person, which would be stronger.”
For Barclay, as well as many other area residents, the pool is an important part of their lives throughout the year. “My kids have taken lessons and been on the swim team organized by Aquatic Stars, which rents the pool,” she said. “I’ve used the pool for the masters swim program that’s organized by Daleview pool.”
Located within a short walk or drive from anywhere in Takoma Park, the pool is a boon for people without cars, said Barclay. “If you look at the other options for swim programs, they’re crazy drives at rush hour,” she said. “This pool is so convenient.”
The presence of the pool within Piney Branch Elementary is yet another benefit, Barclay added. “In my daughter’s fourth-grade class, I’d say a majority of the kids don’t really know how to swim,” she said. “For some, this is their only exposure to a pool.”
The Takoma Park City Council is solidly behind the pool. It unanimously voted on July 13 to support a resolution urging the County Council to return the funds to the budget.
Good signs emerged from the County Council, too, as Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee members Nancy Floreen and members George Leventhal and Hans Riemer voted on July 13 in favor of funding the pool.
Meanwhile, some people in Takoma Park have bigger ambitions for the pool. “We are moving into a phase of advocacy for county renovation of the pool,” said Takoma Park Ward 1 Councilmember Seth Grimes. “Desirable elements include facility modernization, accessibility improvements to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and physical separation of the pool facilities from the school.”
Grimes said he received a commitment from Montgomery County Recreation Director Gabe Albornoz to conduct an interdepartmental meeting in the fall about possible renovation projects.
Barclay said that the off-on-off nature of the financing has showed that Takoma Park needs to present a long-term plan for the pool. “We don’t want to go through this every year,” she said, noting that it’s not the first time the pool has been threatened with closure.
This article appeared in the August 2015 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.