Two recreation and parks commission committees recommended Wednesday that BREC immediately demolish the Gus Young swimming pool but work with a group to raise private dollars for new aquatic features at the park.
The full BREC Board of Commissioners will vote next week on the plan to demolish the dilapidated pool and partner with a group to raise money for another water option to replace it. The plan would give the private group working with BREC three years to raise the money and five years to bring its plan to life for Gus Young.
Members from the public and a parade of political figures slammed BREC during the meeting, where the committees spent more than two hours discussing and hearing public input on the pool. Many accused BREC of moving forward with its own agenda despite hearing an outcry from community members who want a pool in their neighborhood.
“We’ve heard the slogan ‘Imagine Your Parks,’ ” NAACP general counsel Alfreda Tillman Bester said. “The people of Gus Young have imagined their park. The park the people of Gus Young have imagined has a pool.”
She was not the only speaker who played off of BREC’s “Imagine Your Parks” marketing, which has been the name of the agency’s past two successful tax plans.
“Imagine Your Parks 2 I didn’t think was going to lead to ‘imagine you don’t have a pool,’ ” Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said.
Some committee members said they understood the difficulty of children in poor communities needing safe places to go. They urged BREC to be “on the right side of history.”
Both committees voted unanimously to involve BREC in a partnership with a group to raise money for the pool.
BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said during the meeting that the plans to make over Gus Young and add new aquatic options are exciting. She said she is open to extending the time frame for the public-private partnership to raise money for the pool when the original staff recommendation gave Gus Young supporters only one year to secure funding.
Members of the Gus Young community were joined by people from other neighborhoods in the parish who insisted BREC was not listening to the needs of their communities as well.
Robert Revel, who lives in Old Jefferson, referenced when BREC closed the Jefferson pool years ago. He warned the Gus Young residents that BREC still has not added anything to improve quality of life for the children in his part of the parish.
“There’s no transparency between this board and the public,” Revel said. “I’m angry; I’m damn angry. Because I’m tired of being bled to death tax-wise and getting nothing in our area.”
Revel and some of the Gus Young contingency cautioned the committee members that they would no longer support BREC’s future taxes if the agency continues to ignore their demands for their neighborhoods.
State District Judge Trudy White said she supported BREC’s aquatics plan when the agency developed it years ago, which she would not have done had she known about the plans to close Gus Young.
Others who spoke in favor of building a new Gus Young pool said it is important that BREC not forget the symbolism the pool holds for the black community. State Rep. Alfred Williams, D-Baton Rouge, said he played in the Gus Young pool as a child, and former Metro Councilman Byron Sharper said he learned to swim there.
The Rev. Betty Claiborne reminded the committees that she was arrested in the 1960s for being a black woman who was swimming in the white City Park pool. She said BREC needs to step up and become a player in helping a private group to secure the money to build a new pool.
“There needs to be a collaboration between us, the commission, the communities and all of the assets and resources in this parish to help us gain the pool we tried to get in 1962,” she said. “We need to be one Baton Rouge. It’s not what’s absent in my community and is in your community.”
BREC has maintained that even if no aquatic option replaces the Gus Young pool, the organization offers a multitude of opportunities for children to learn to swim.
People in the Gus Young community are 1.5 miles away from the YMCA’s A.C. Lewis Pool, where BREC has a partnership. They are also about 2 miles from BREC’s Howell Park pool.
BREC has tracked more than 130 children from the 70802 and 70805 ZIP codes that have used the A.C. Lewis Pool this summer.