Hilltop community breaks ground on $7.6M Tacoma aquatics facility

Metro Parks Tacoma and the City of Tacoma hosted a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday to mark the beginning of a major renovation of an aquatics facility in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood.

A new swimming pool is the centerpiece of the $7.6 million project at the People’s Community Center, which will also include a three-lane lap pool, passive swim area and bench, indoor spray pad, current channel, vortex, and lily pad walk. In addition, visitors will also notice new restrooms and changing areas, two party rooms, and basketball hoops. The project is being paid for using approximately $5.34 million in City funds, approximately $1.74 million in Metro Parks Tacoma bonds, and a $485,000 grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce. The pool is scheduled to open to the public in fall 2016.

The People’s Community Center, which was built in 1978 and is located at 1602 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, is owned by the City of Tacoma and operated by Metro Parks Tacoma. The pool was closed in 2008 after an engineer’s report cited structural concerns. A stakeholders group that included Metro Parks Tacoma, City of Tacoma, and community representatives formed to advocate for re-opening the facility and secure funding for the project.

Several stakeholders spoke about the project during the ceremony this week. Their comments have been edited for clarity and abridged for publication.

Tim Reid (Metro Parks Tacoma Commissioner)

This marks a major milestone in the redevelopment. As we began the planning for a much needed update to the pool in 2008, we discovered major structural issues which prompted the immediate closure to ensure public safety. We were extremely challenged in 2008 because the one-million dollars provided from the park improvement bond wouldn’t begin to address the necessary replacement of the structure, let alone anything for the pool. After we talked to the community, we considered options for what we could afford to provide for the center within the one-million dollars provided in the budget. We discussed the option of repurposing this portion of the pool building, constructing new walls, and adding a second gym. As we began reaching out to the community, it became clear that the Hilltop community wanted and needed a replacement pool. It was equally clear that there was nowhere near the funding needed to make that happen. The process has taken some time and countless conversations. We’re all excited about the outcome.

Lauren Walker (Tacoma City Councilmember)

This pool means a great deal to me. I was going through some old boxes of my kids’ stuff — my kids are 26 and 24 now — just about a month ago and [found] my son’s swimming certificate from about 1995. Both of my kids learned how to swim here. I swam here. In the early 2000′s, I learned how to lap swim. The hours at People’s Pool kept getting less and less. Eventually, I had to bump over to the East Side pool. I still swim laps and do water aerobics at the East Side pool. In my first year in office, I wrote a letter to the Metro Parks Commissioners saying, “Please value our pools. I’m really sad that the People’s Pool doesn’t have very many hours anymore and I have to go to the East Side pool.” A month later, guess what? The pool was condemned. For the last seven-and-a-half years, we have been working together with a wonderful stakeholders group, with Metro Parks, and with the City. The other amazing thing that happened in 2008 was that I was working on something called the Tacoma Civil Rights Project, which was a group of people that wanted to chronicle the history of civil rights. We got the Washington State History Museum to curate an exhibit on this. There on the wall was a 1969 article [about how] the black community [wanted] a pool for the kids in the Hilltop. This is why this pool is here. I went to the Black Collective after the pool was condemned and said, “Do you want me to fight for this?” There’s been incredible, broad support throughout the Hilltop. Thank you to Metro Parks for putting the stakeholders committee together and working on this. After seven-and-a-half years, we are ready to put shovels in the ground.

Victoria Woodards (Tacoma City Councilmember)

This center proves and shows what happens when a community of people gets together and says to their government, “This is what we want.” When we did the bond issue in 2005, we slated money for People’s Pool and it was nowhere near what we needed. But what we kept hearing across the country at every conference I went to was that Parks and Recreation [Departments] were no longer building pools. They didn’t pencil. Nobody used them. Nationally, people were going away from pools. We consulted person after person after person who said, “We don’t need pools. We don’t build pools anymore.” So it would have been really easy for Metro Parks to take all of that data and build a second gym because that’s what got the most use here at this community center at the time. I’ll never forget the day that we had a community meeting here and we invited everybody into the room. That was the day we heard the community say, “We don’t want another gym. We want a pool.” That’s when Metro Parks went to work with the City of Tacoma to figure out how to make this happen. Today, after all of that work and all of that leadership in the community, we are making it happen, and I am so glad about that. It just shows what can happen when our community comes together and decides that it wants something better for all of our kids in our entire community.

Fletcher Jenkins (People’s Community Center Pool Improvements Community Advisory Group)

The spark I think that really got us going was when we had our kids come to the meeting and they said, “We don’t want another basketball court. We’ll have bake sales. We’ll have rummage sales. We’ll have car washes. We want a pool. We don’t want to catch the bus to have to go to the South End or the Y. We need one in our area. We need one right here on the Hill.” That was the spark that took off and ignited our board. This is not just something that happened in our community. This will be footprint to our community, to our youth, on what we can do when we come together as a group, when we come together collectively. I would hope that this community could be a beacon to so many other communities. Things really happen when we come together collectively as a group. There’s no problem that’s too big when we all come together.

To read the Tacoma Daily Index‘s complete and comprehensive coverage of the People’s Community Center swimming pool and aquatics center, click on the following links: