Changes are coming to Garfield Park and Pool and at a public meeting on Thursday neighbors clashed over a proposed shortening of the existing 100-foot pool, with many arguing it would further crowd an already popular pool.
Architects proposed a wall that would effectively shorten the pool to 75 feet and allow for a smaller, shallower recreation swim zone. The pool would be the same, but separated into a lap area and a children and senior swim area.
Those opposed advised against any change to a pool that is a “lifeline” for seniors and other pool goers.
“There are a lot of people in poor health who rely on this pool,” said one local resident. He argued that city officials should consider installing a second pool instead to keep the swimming lanes their current length. “There will simply be less room,” if the changes are made, he said.
Early in the meeting, which followed one in November 2015 which saw other concerns, a woman shot up out of her seat and interrupted a speaker to take a preliminary tally. Holding a clipboard and pen, she asked the crowd to sign their name if they were against the shortening of the pool.
“I’d like to collect anyone’s info who is opposed to shortening the pool,” she said.
“Excuse me? Could you let her finish?” said another woman, before the conversation moved on.
Early on, Bob Palacio, a superintendent of neighborhood services at the Recreation and Parks Department, described the meeting as a relative calm in a national context of confirmation hearings and inauguration protests.
“There’s lot of crazy stuff going on in the country and in the world,” he said of the the 40 odd people crammed into the recreation room at Garfield Park at 26th and Harrison streets to watch a presentation on the project plans. “This isn’t one of them.”
That was perhaps wishful thinking.
The yells and interruptions that sometimes dominate local meetings were absent, but lap swimmers argued fervently that a 100-foot pool is a precious resource that should not be shortened. They were met with arguments by parents, many with babies and toddlers in their laps, that a kid’s play area should be created.
“I really think it’s important that the features are designed for kids of all ages,” the man, whose first name was Steven, said, emphasizing the “recreation and water safety” aspect of a separate pool area.
The project for a revamped pool would expand the clubhouse by building an extension to the building currently on-site and create a courtyard between the new building and the pool building. The courtyard would have tables, a splash zone, and planters, with as-yet undefined art opportunities.
“This is one of the places where the cultural heritage of the Mission can be expressed,” said Alyosha Verzhbinsky, a principal at the architecture firm Tef Design, responsible for the design of the project.
The pool locker rooms would also be refurbished with new toilets and showers and the recreation room at the clubhouse expanded to twice its size. Publicly-accessible restrooms would be added, separate from the pool and open to all park-goers.
But it was the pool itself that drew the most controversy. Many said they themselves learned how to swim in the current pool and did not understand why children need a separate space.
Toks Ajike, the project manager with the Recreation and Parks Department, said that after improvements at Hamilton Pool in the Western Addition, the pool saw increased usage of 40 percent. Adding a recreation area for children and seniors, he said, would allow for more city-provided classes and programs that would mean more total pool-time.
Sean McGrew, a fourth generation San Franciscan who lives in the Sunset, said the trade-off in pool length was worth it for children to have a dedicated play area. In an attempt to back the project, he said the shorter pool would only mean more laps to be swum.
“I think I’d rather have the access than 20 fewer laps,” he said. “This community has a lot of kids in it.”
Others had different concerns. One man asked whether a water slide was still being considered for the pool — it’s too “cost-prohibitive,” city staff said. Another wondered whether the increased activity might bring more people who stay at the park into the night and said a curfew should be enforced.
“It’s a quality of life issue,” she said.
The pool project is a result of Proposition B, a 2012 bond passed by San Francisco voters that allocated $195 million to the Recreation and Parks Department for various spending — including upgrades to the nine pools throughout the city.
Balboa Pool is undergoing improvement that will end in 2017. Garfield Pool will follow, with groundbreaking planned for June 2018 to and completion in September 2019. It will be followed by improvements to Rossi Pool in the Richmond.
The total cost of the project is estimated at $16.3 million — some $5 million more than initially planned under the bond.
Though little was resolved at the meeting, the second of three planned meetings, city officials pledged to take comments into consideration and come back with a more fleshed-out, final proposal before beginning the permitting process.
“Nothing’s been decided,” said James Wheeler, a recreation manager with the Recreation and Parks Department. “Nothing’s been decided.”