Free swimming in the city (before Aug. 20)

August 10, 2009

There’s about one week left to make use of the city’s free public swimming pools: Marquette in South City, Fairground in North St. Louis and Chambers at Compton and Franklin, a few blocks north of Saint Louis University. They traditionally close just before the city’s public schools start up again, which this year happens on Aug. 20.

They’re no-frills venues, for sure — no slides, no squirting jets, no fountains. Floatation devices are not allowed, though goggles, masks and swim caps are. I’ve not been to all three, but Marquette is only five minutes from our house — perfect for a quick dip when we only have an hour or so to spare — so I can give you pointers on it.

On our first visit, I was surprised just how large the pool is. M. loved that there were two three-foot ends, with a five-foot section in the middle. The “deep end” juts out to the side. The kiddie pool is separate, so if you have one kid in each, it’d be tough to supervise them both. Then again, we met several tweens who were there completely unsupervised, and several parents had a passel of unrelated kids who were scattered throughout the pool. But the lifeguards do an excellent job of keeping kids in line. Our first impression was that the pool was not particularly friendly to newcomers, but we’ve since decided that we don’t really mind that the staff’s role is to be disciplinarians.

That said, the pool — like so many things in the city — could benefit from a marketing push. For one thing, the phone numbers on the homepages don’t work. For another, the entrance is pretty much unmarked, just a gate in the fence on the pool’s eastern side, and there’s no official person regulating whether you are in fact a city resident or have soap to take a shower, as stated in the rules.  (In fact, the only showers are inside the rec center.) There are no toys, but kickboards are provided, and when M. asked how he could get one, the lifeguard told him to take one from another kid who has two, because one per person is the limit.  M. was like, OK … but actually, the lifeguards seemed to be enforcing that rule, because kids were gracious about parting with extras.

As I was writing this, I was reminded of an article that ran in the Post a few weeks ago, about the desegragation of the city’s pools and the riots that ensued.  It’s a great piece — and it alludes to one of the other suprising facts about Marquette: nearly all the swimmers are black. Given how diverse South City is, I wondered if the article’s author was onto something in his last lines.

All in all, it’s a good place for M. to practice swimming and to keep me cool now that the weather is back to normal for August!  I just wish the city seemed prouder of it.

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