The Carbondale Park District is taking its story of the stalled Super Splash Park project to Washington, D.C, this week, even as hopes dim that the pool will open this season.
Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro and Park Board President Harvey Welch leave this weekend for the nation’s capital, where Welch is scheduled to speak at Blue Mind Five, a summit organized by scientist and water advocate Wallace J. Nichols.
Nichols, who spoke in Carbondale last month, also is the author of “Blue Mind,” which argues that human proximity to water has the capacity to draw people closer and create more happiness and health in society.
Welch, who is scheduled to speak Monday, May 11 at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said he will discuss his experiences growing up in a more segregated Carbondale, when the black children swam in Crab Orchard Lake and the white children swam elsewhere.
“When I was a little kid, white Carbondale didn’t want to swim with black Carbondale,” Welch said. “People need to have access to water and a pool. It has the capacity of making our community do something together.”
Harvey Welch is pictured in March 2015.
Despite that potential, however, hopes for Carbondale’s new aquatic center opening anytime this summer are continuing to dwindle following the announcement in March that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources had suspended its grant funding for the project at the order of Gov. Bruce Rauner. The pool, located at the Carbondale Superblock, had been scheduled to open at the end of this month.
The Park District was notified in 2011 of the $2.5 million grant, which came with the requirement that the Park District raise matching funds totaling $625,000 to complete the project.
In turn, the Park District launched a community-wide capital campaign that raised about $900,000 to complete the project with some added ameneties.
As it stands now, the project is about 80 percent complete, and technically, the Park District has the money to complete it. However, Renfro said making any further expenditures while the IDNR funding remains in limbo could jeopardize the entire grant, which the Park District can’t afford. As a result, park leaders have deemed waiting for the suspension to be lifted to be the most prudent way forward.
Renfro said the project right now is about 70 days from completion, which means that even with an immediate lifting of the suspension, the pool wouldn’t be able to open until the middle of the summer.
At this point, Renfro said she has been given verbal, non-specific assurances that the IDNR funding will be restored, but she has no idea when that might be.
She said many are preparing for the notion that the pool might not be ready to open to the public until sometime in 2016.
“I’m not confident,” Renfro said of the possibility of the pool opening this year.
But she added: “By hook or by crook, we’ll finish that pool.”
The Times reached out to Dave Sellman, the project’s grant administrator at IDNR, but he did not respond by the Times’ press deadline Friday.
During Wednesday’s rally against state budget cuts on the SIU campus, Park Board Vice President Rick Erickson also spoke to the situation, saying the pool opening’s delay has been a frustration to everyone involved, particularly following a fundraising effort that involved local community groups and governmental bodies coming together.
Erickson said that after so much work, it is difficult not to feel crestfallen about where the Splash Park stands today.
“Right now, we are trying to be optimistic despite feeling very angry and frustrated,” Erickson said. “We were so close to completing this facility. We did everything right.”