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Splash Park efforts to receive national honor

Geoffrey Ritter
Weekend Times

Carbondale will be recognized later this month for its long-term tenacity in trying to open a public pool.

Officials with the Carbondale Park District, which finally opened the long-awaited Super Splash Park earlier this year, will travel to Chicago Sept. 27 to receive the third-annual Blue Mind Award.

The award recognizes individuals or groups that “explore new ways of understanding and evolving our relationship to healthy waterways,” according to the organization’s announcement of the award. Past recipients came from Palo Alto, Calif., and Washington, D.C.

The award springs from the work of Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences who charted the relationship between people and water in his 2014 book “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do.” Nichols traveled to Carbondale in 2015 to speak and learn about Carbondale’s efforts.

Carbondale’s Super Splash Park opened in May at the Superblock following years of work and fundraising.

The Carbondale Park District engaged with the public to become involved with the effort financially even as other obstacles — most notably the suspension of a state grant earmarked to pay for the bulk of the project — made the pool’s eventual opening anything but certain.

“It was a grassroots effort,” said Kathy Renfro, executive director of the park district. “I feel like the whole thing has been a long shot, but with everyone’s tenacity, we got there.”

Renfro first met Nichols in 2015, well into the development of the facility, and said that the philosophies about water that he espoused lent credibility to ideas she already had — namely that water can strengthen the bonds of community and help forge greater interpersonal connections.

“Nichols’ book confirmed that a swimming pool has the potential to change how we interact socially,” Renfro said. “We knew that, but we just didn’t have any science to back it up. We just sort of knew about it intuitively.”

Nichols’ announcement of the award to Carbondale notes that the community “overcame the odds, many challenging roadblocks, and opened their first public swimming pool. Theirs is a story of tenacity, equality, access, justice and above all the love of water.”

The award will be presented during an event from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27 at the 3rd Coast Café and Wine Bar in Chicago. Renfro said anyone who would like to attend will be welcome.

Dunn: Enrollment must be employees' 'Job 1'

Carbondale Times

SIU President Randy Dunn says boosting enrollment is going to have to become a top priority of everyone associated with SIU’s Carbondale campus, even as continuing uncertainty around state funding casts an ever-greater shadow.

In his “System Connections” column last week, Dunn wrote that all employees will have to think of enrollment as “Job 1” following the release of student enrollment figures that show the Carbondale campus slipping below 16,000 students for the first time since 1964. Enrollment now stands at 15,987 — a 7.6 percent decrease from the fall of 2015.

“However, I know that Interim Undergraduate Admissions Director Terri Harfst has a strong student recruitment plan in place — including a fully staffed office now — and that everyone associated with the Carbondale campus is going to have to think of enrollment as Job 1,” Dunn said, noting further that the stronger enrollment trends on SIU’s Edwardsville campus don’t necessarily make SIUE immune from financial pressures. “Of course, a stronger enrollment profile has buffered SIUE from the most severe budget reductions that could have been taken. Even so, faced with the prospect of no additional state funding after December, that positive enrollment history cannot forestall planning for future tough choices.”

Dunn was referring to the lingering state budget impasse that was mitigated somewhat by a stopgap spending plan earlier this year, but still left the SIU system with only a fraction of the state funding to which it is accustomed. Without a full budget after the November elections, Dunn said the campus faces “a period of difficult choices.”

“[N]umerous elements of the SIU system won’t remain viable without more state money than what we have seen these last 18 months,” Dunn said. “We can’t do for another two years what we’ve done these last 18 months. The money isn’t there. So figure we’ll be looking this fall at another round of scenario planning to be ready for what may come in a worst-case situation through this next spring. One of those worst cases would be no additional state support for higher education in FY17 beyond the $106 million in “Stopgap #2” last June … and believe me, that’s something that is being seriously talked about among the state’s political intelligentsia.”

Dunn plans to discuss the situation in more detail during his State of the System Address next month on the Carbondale campus.

That address has been planned for Oct. 17.