Maplewood TC, residents discuss equity as it pertains to town pool

The Maplewood Township Committee passes a bond ordinance on first reading for repairs at the Maplewood Community Pool at its meeting on May 3, and also discusses the function of the pool.

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The Maplewood Township Committee passed a bond ordinance for improvements to the Maplewood Community Pool at its May 3 meeting on first reading, setting a public hearing and second vote for May 17. The ordinance passed with a vote of 4-0; Committeewoman Jamaine Cripe was absent. The ordinance appropriates $252,000. Of that money, $239,400 will come from bonding for capital improvements to the pool facility, including renovation of the dive tower, pool plaster application and the acquisition of a snack bar ice machine.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents discussed the pool and how it functions in the community. The discussion came after a South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education meeting on March 21, at which a group of residents in the district advocated for the Columbia High School pool to be included in the district’s Long Range Facilities Plan and reopened. The CHS pool was closed in 2013.

“I’m happy to see that the town is investing about a quarter of a million dollars in the pool for repairs,” Khadijah Costley White said at the Maplewood meeting on May 3. “But I’ve been really confused about the silence from the Township Committee about the destruction of the CHS pool. Four hundred and eighty students a year got free lessons built into their curriculum at the high school pool, and, with the destruction of that pool, there’s a huge void.”

White pointed out that there are many children in the community who are not learning to swim, and it is a racial equity issue. Many children of color do not get the opportunity to learn how to swim and are at higher risk of drowning.

“I know we don’t all agree on recreational stuff, but I hope we all agree that every kid in our community deserves an opportunity to swim,” White said. “This is a longstanding racial segregation issue, and it’s something you all can fix. I hope you do.”

Heather Saslovsky, another Maplewood resident, also mentioned the racial equity aspect of having an accessible pool and asked that the Maplewood Community Pool be made more accessible for swimming lessons.

“It needs to be an open pool for the entire community,” Saslovsky said. “We don’t need to pay dues to be paying for it; we as taxpayers pay for that pool every single year. We pay for the bond and we pay for the staff that oversees the pool. Last year when there was an issue with the contractor, you used local staff. But you can’t be putting them into a country club. If that is a town community pool, then make it so.”

Also speaking about access, Bert Morris said that if the CHS pool is destroyed and the space turned into something else, it will likely never come back. That would compound the access issues that White and Saslovsky spoke about in their comments, and the Maplewood pool could help solve the problem.

“I very strongly urge all of you to support it if there’s anything you can do,” Morris said at the meeting. “At the community pool, all of us Maplewood residents should have that opportunity of learning how to swim, especially our young people.”

In response, Mayor Dean Dafis agreed that swimming is an essential life skill and a racial equity issue. Scheduling isn’t set in stone yet, but the town is beginning a pilot program during this summer’s pool season that will offer swimming lessons to both members and nonmembers of the community pool.

“Because of a lack of lifeguards who are sufficiently certified to teach swimming to adults and to others with special needs, the pilot program for now will be limited to kids,” Dafis said at the meeting. “We’re also speaking to Seton Hall (University) about an exchange with their lifeguards, because they tend to have better certified and more qualified lifeguards, who can help us expand beyond our pilot program next season to cover adults and others with special needs.”

The details of the program are currently being finalized by the Maplewood Pool Committee and will be announced in the coming weeks. Dafis also said he wants to have a larger conversation about the Maplewood pool and how the town uses it.

“What are we doing with our pool?” he said. “Is it a community pool, as we say that it is, or is it a country club? It’s a really important distinction, and I think we’ve gotten to the point where we need to engage on this, and we need to be leaders and take a stand. We will have sufficient public engagement on it. I’m confident we will get to the right place.”