Petitioners make waves to reopen park district pools

Park district sticks by closure citing health, high costs

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

As time is running out for there to be a summer swim season, over 700 people have signed a petition asking the Park District of Oak Park to open Ridgeland and Rehm pools this summer. The goal of the petition is to open the pool in a limited capacity where lap swimming, aquatic therapy and club team swim practices can take place.

The park district citing concerns over COVID-19 safety and the cost of operating on a limited attendance basis is sticking with its decision to cancel the full season.

"We are not suggesting [the park district] open up the pools without any restrictions," said one of the lead organizers, John Nicholls III.

"But we have an Olympic-sized pool that we aren't utilizing right now. We are still under Phase 3 of [Gov. J.B. Pritzker's] plan, so there's no groups of 10 or more people. We could have multiple groups of 10 that are spaced out 30 feet apart on deck. Spacing out the chairs and other things within the facility but there's got to be a way to figure this out and be responsible about it." 

On May 28, Jan Arnold, executive director of the park district, announced the pools would not open due to COVID-19 safety concerns. This was before the Illinois Department of Public Health released its swimming facility guidelines on June 5.

The second paragraph of the guidelines state, "During Phase 3, swimming facilities licensed by IDPH are not to be opened except for lap swimming, diving, swimming lessons, swim team practices, and therapy pool use. Water parks and bathing beaches are not to be opened in Phase 3."

The petitioners are arguing that, since there is new information coming from the state, there should be another discussion around whether the pools should remain closed.

"Look, I am someone with an autoimmune disorder," said Renee Burnett, who signed the petition. "When I get sick, it takes me a long time to get better, and I still support reopening the pools. We have more information now and Phase 4 is coming up on June 26 as well. We could have adult swims and schedule it so that there's not too many people. I would even wear a mask in the pool!"

Another group dealing with the ramifications of the pool not opening this summer are the club swim teams in the area. Academy Bullets, TOPS and Team Millennium all have swimmers who are looking to find space to get back into swim shape.

Team Millennium is composed mostly of swimmers from Oak Park and River Forest which makes Rehm and Ridgeland pools a prime location for the group to meet due to its accessibility. Since the local pools are closed at the moment, the team is looking to find space to practice (Oak Lawn being one of the options). However, since Oak Lawn is approximately 25 miles away from Oak Park, the swimmers would have to find a way to make the trek out there.

Team Millennium's head coach, Kathy Rigali, believes there is a way to make this happen.

"During our normal practices, we don't have more than eight or 10 swimmers in the lane and under [the IDPH's swim facility guidelines], we would be way under that," said Rigali. "No one is suggesting that things go back to normal but there are pools that are opening and being maintained."

Arnold responded to issues raised in the petition in an email to Wednesday Journal.

"While the CDC has indicated that pool water with properly maintained chemicals levels will likely kill the coronavirus, it is the other areas of the pool that cause us concern regarding virus transmission," she said in an email to the Journal on June 15.

"Even with enhanced cleaning and disinfecting, there are few guarantees. Finally, the safety of our lifeguard staff is of utmost concern. Unlike many other park district staff, their positions as life savers, put them frequently in close proximity to other staff, patrons and bodily fluids during rescues. This proximity cannot be avoided and puts staff in direct contact with a patrons' breath and/or bodily fluids when making a rescue."

In the email, Arnold said that even under Phase Four, which restricts gatherings of over 50 people, the park district sells over 9,500 pool passes and has over 100,00 visitors per season. Financially, it would become more difficult to create revenue if certain restrictions were to be implemented.

"Ultimately the decision to close the pools came down to the health and safety of our patrons and our staff," said Arnold. "We cannot, in good conscience, ask our staff to keep pool users safe when we cannot ensure their safety. Staff looks forward to bringing the pools back to full use for our community in 2021."

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Reader Comments

15 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 24th, 2020 10:08 PM

Bill. Petulant? Me? Ha Ha. I guess it takes one to know one.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: June 24th, 2020 9:11 PM

So, so petulant, Bruce. Yes, I'm aware of what's called viral load. And merely being breathed on momentarily, probably won't infect you, experts say. But children have been known to play and frolic in swimming pools on occasion, and you don't have to be a genius- or a doctor- to know that. That's why I applaud the PDOP's eminently appropriate decision.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 24th, 2020 8:36 PM

Bill did you read what I said about polio? Or Covid for that matter? I was addressing the facts - and myths - related to the polio epidemic which I (and apparently) Mr. Smith lived through. Furthermore, did I say anything about unlimited kids or adults frolicking in a pool? You can actually swim - with out frolicking believe it or not - thereby limiting risk. You can actually limit the numbers of folks in a pool also, and thereby also "social distance." All these things pointed out clearly by the CDC Amazing that. No? Now whether PDOP should do that - given logistics and costs - well that is another matter entirely. And as far educating me about how this virus is spread, well thank you so much. I really needed your supreme expertise and knowledge to tell me how the virus is spread, because gee after four years of medical school and seven years of residency and fellowship, and thirtyfive years of anesthesiology and intensive care medicine, as well as actually partaking in the supportive care of patients afflicted with the virus during this pandemic, what do I know? Right? By the way genius, it's dose of virus not just simply breathing on each other.

Les Golden  

Posted: June 23rd, 2020 7:23 PM

Greenfield Park is vacant. It was a part-time dog park. No baseball. Nothing npw and for the foreseeable future, meaning all summer. That was where we had a spacious, safe, joyous dog park until Balling cancelled it. With NO ONE in Greenfield Park, can't the board let us frolic with our dogs there at least on weekends???!!!!

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: June 23rd, 2020 6:24 PM

So, all those people frolicking and yelling and such in the pool won't be breathing on each other, Bruce? Because that's how the novel coronavirus spreads, chlorinated water or not.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: June 23rd, 2020 5:39 PM

Mr. Smith the polio virus is not waterborne - then or now. It is an enterovirus ...from the gut. Second chlorine which was then in use in pools when you and I were kids was a known viricide to the polio virus as well as to the coronavirus. Your post in regard to the polio virus just reflects the hysteria and panic of the times fostered by uncertainties and falsehoods. Much like today with the coronavirus.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: June 23rd, 2020 4:48 PM

Well done, PDOP board and staff. Truly sorry for the kids who are impacted, but it was the correct decision.

Jeffrey Smith  

Posted: June 23rd, 2020 4:25 PM

Clearly, few of the folks posting remember the horror of polio and that millions of parents - including mine - would not let me anywhere near a public swimming pool until the vaccine came along. For the few who seem driven to share a small body of water with a bunch of strangers, I would suggest inviting random people into your bathtub for mutual splashing.

Jason Cohen  

Posted: June 20th, 2020 2:30 PM

I can understand both sides of this argument but ultimately safety should win out. The problem is any suggestion has real drawbacks. I can't see how you can have kids there given that kids will have a tough time respecting boundaries. It would be tough to make it only for adults to exercise. That's a ton to maintain just so some adults can swim laps which is likely about all you could allow to keep people safe. I am sure a plan for adults could work but imagine the poor kids wanting to use the pool and not being able to. The cost to maintain all this for a small number of adults with the risks just doesn't seem to make sense. This is a bummer but in the grand scheme of things hardly the end of the world.

Nicholas Kalogeresis from Oak Park  

Posted: June 20th, 2020 10:31 AM

Out of an abundance of caution the Park District made the right decision. Although it is unclear why the Hruby Ice Arena is being allowed to open next month. That needs a bit more explanation.

Ellen Edwards  

Posted: June 16th, 2020 11:00 PM

Amanda Turnbull, I'm not being pissy. I'm a senior with limited mobility and severe sciatica pain. I swim for my health. Pools could keep locker rooms closed, swimmers could come wearing swimsuits, be admitted in safe numbers for 30!or 40 minutes and then be required to leave the premises and another batch of swimmers admitted. Close the sun decks and let people sunbathe elsewhere. It could work.

Anne Hollister from Oak Park  

Posted: June 16th, 2020 9:30 PM

The PDOP has made a well-thought and reasonable decision. Unfortunately this is a season of sacrifice. Masks and social distancing are near impossible to maintain in a pool for the general public, especially on a hot day. The thought of wearing a wet mask is ridiculous. Locker rooms already bring people in close contact?"bathing, bathrooms, changing rooms, wet used bathing suits wrung out on the floor. It's not all about planning for what happens in the water or on the pool deck. And why should young lifeguards be forced to sit in the hot sun in a surgical mask? It's not like they can save a person like that. To do CPR they'd need a N95, a face shield, gloves, and a medical gown. All sounds a bit selfish to me.

Amanda Turnbull  

Posted: June 16th, 2020 8:37 PM

Sorry 7% of pool users and 1% of Oak Parkers are pissy about it, but I'm glad PDOP is being sensible.

Steven Berman from Oak Park   

Posted: June 16th, 2020 8:11 PM

I believe that with family-unit spacing, as suggested, and other capacity limits, the pool would be safe and could make sufficient revenue by, for non-class and -lap swim sessions, (1) inviting members only to participate in booked swimming visits (including pool "sectior") and (2) charging additional per-visit fees. This should free up enough of the pools, which are not usually crowded when not extremely hot. Lifeguard safety can be further studied for the rare mouth to mouth resuscitation. Please make a special effort to not squander the rest of a pool season.

Ellen Edwards  

Posted: June 16th, 2020 6:16 PM

I'm glad to know 700 other Oak Park Pool patrons feel the same way I do! I emailed the PDOP board members to express my strong feelings that pools can be opened with adequate safety for patrons, staff, and lifeguards. I still believe it can be don%uFFFD responsibly. Lifeguards can wear medical grade masks, can't they?. The real reason, I suspect, is the revenue drop.

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