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Local Column

AKST: Time to pool our resources

It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times, but the tale of these two cities – DeKalb and Sycamore – seems to be that aquatic recreation will be downsized or dumbed down.

Both communities have nice swimming pools that are wearing out at the same time. Municipal pools are expensive to build and maintain, but they’re also important to a community’s quality of life.

According to a 2011 community survey included in the Sycamore Park District’s “Vision 2020” plan, 42 percent of Sycamore Park District residents are willing to fund a new Sycamore swimming pool. Twenty-two percent of respondents list outdoor swimming pools as one of their most important parks/recreation facilities.

Still, as the Daily Chronicle reported a couple weeks ago, the plan doesn’t include upgrading or replacing the pool within the next six years. Item 6 in the plan’s “critical success factors” is “keeping the outdoor pool open as long as fiscally responsible.”

Fiscally responsible seems to be in the eye of the beholder, because the same plan gushes about the golf course and pro shop that as late as 2010 was $750,000 in the red. (The debt had been eliminated before the end of fiscal 2014 and now operates in the black.)

The thing is: There are many places to play golf. There are very few outdoor, public places to swim.

“Board members said they are hoping the pool will last another 10 years, but acknowledged they might have to close it if a large repair seems too expensive for the aging facility,” the Chronicle reported. “They are open to addressing the pool after 2020 and trying to work with DeKalb park commissioners on a potential joint pool.”

The park district plans to build a new, $800,000 splash pad on part of 25 acres of land near Airport Road it recently purchased.

I understand the appeal of splash pads from government’s point of view.

As writer Susan Adcox notes in a parenting/grandparenting blog on, “Municipalities like them [splash parks] because they can be operated without lifeguards or other attendants. Parents and grandparents like them because they are a way for kids to enjoy water fun with no risk of drowning.”

A splash pad in addition to a great pool is fine, but a splash pad instead of a great pool is lame.

I view splash pads as elaborate versions of sprinklers in yards. Only young kids like them, they teach nothing about swimming or water safety, they do nothing for adults who need exercise more than kids, and they’re job killers (no lifeguards).

Also, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 2007 article in the Journal of Environmental Health, splash pads are a significant risk for cryptosporidiosis. “Crypto” is a parasite found in humans, other mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. Infected people commonly suffer diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea and low-grade fever. Shallow water, spray and contamination from diaper-wearing kids are the hazards.

The future of Hopkins Pool in DeKalb looks a bit brighter. The DeKalb Park District is looking at keeping most of the pool’s basin and renovating it at an anticipated cost ranging from $3.8 to $5.7 million.

But it seems that given the financial constraints of each city and the need for at least one stellar swimming pool, DeKalb and Sycamore should work together.

They tried that, sort of. Last year, representatives from the two cities met a few times to see about jointly building a facility. I would call the effort lacking.

DeKalb and Sycamore are not Paris, France, and Paris, Texas. I live in Sycamore and work in DeKalb. Surely we can build a fabulous, cost effective aquatic center.

So let’s try again. Why?

A significant study commissioned in 2008 by the Knight Foundation called “Soul of the Community” surveyed 43,000 people in 26 communities across America. It found that regardless of size or location, three main qualities attach people to places they live. Attachment, in turn, drives economic development, good schools, and everything else.

Those qualities are social offerings (entertainment venues and places to meet), openness (how welcoming a place is), and aesthetics (physical beauty and green spaces).

• Jason Akst teaches journalism and public relations at Northern Illinois University. He also serves as a board member for the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, You can reach him at or follow him on Twitter (@jasonakst).

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