After being closed for maintenance all summer, Baltimore’s Clifton Park pool is on the verge of opening.
Not a soul in a swimsuit could be seen Thursday inside the fence surrounding the pool, nor outside it in the grassy meadow on what by every measure was a pool day — temperatures in the upper 80s, ample blue skies and pillowy clouds.
But from within the large mechanical room next to the pool came the sound of hope: the steady hum of a pump that is the difference between a swimming pool and a giant puddle of water.
This week, a repair crew has been fixing a leak in the pump that prevented the city from opening the pool. Parts were ordered and installed. So far, no leaks.
In an email to The Baltimore Banner on Thursday, Kevin Nash, a spokesman for the city’s Department of Recreation & Parks, wrote, “We anticipate Lake Clifton’s pool will be operational starting tomorrow.”
Of the city’s 23 pools, six were closed for full renovations and two — Clifton Park and the Cherry Hill Splash Park — for less extensive repairs.
Mayor Brandon Scott stressed this week that the city earmarked $120 million a year ago for improvements to park facilities, citing renovations to playgrounds and recreation centers.
If Clifton Park pool in Northeast Baltimore opens Friday, it would be the first — and possibly the only — of the closed pools to reopen this summer as others undergo extensive repairs. The city’s swimming pool saga has resembled a summer TV drama — with politicians at the city and state levels, a hovering helicopter and a viral, aerial video that seemed to attempt to shame some Baltimore kids for taking a dip in a closed pool. Online shamers were shamed, and politicians were compelled to answer for the pool shortage.
The opening of the Clifton Park pool, and its accompanying wading pool and fountain, is a potential benefit to the residents who normally use nearby Patterson Park pool, two miles to the south. Patterson was identified as a recipient of funds and renovation, but Scott and City Councilmember Zeke Cohen disagreed on whether to close the pool for a full renovation or make less extensive repairs and keep it open this summer. Heavy rains overwhelmed the old pool’s mechanical systems, and the city had to abandon plans to reopen it this season. Cohen said the work should have started at the end of last summer.
Clifton Park offered a glimpse of the basic technology that drives a public pool. The heart of the operation is a cast-iron pump, more than a foot in diameter, that draws the pool water through drains in the pool floor and through gutters along the edge. That water is pumped through a bed of sand that removes impurities. The filtered water is driven by the pump back into the pool through a series of 200 half-inch holes that line the perimeter of the pool. The sand can be cleaned periodically by reversing the flow of the pump. The water is treated with chlorine and muriatic acid as needed to control algae growth and other contaminants.
Also eagerly awaiting the opening of the pool are the lifeguards, who were onsite Thursday with little to do but chat and relax and occasionally take a turn cleaning the pool bottom of debris. Some of them had been fielding calls from disappointed swimmers wondering if the pool was open yet. After a while, the calls stopped coming in.
The Cherry Hill Splash Park on Reedbird Avenue remained closed Thursday, drained of its water, lifeguard chairs quiet, not a child or family in sight inside or outside the tall gates that blocked the public from entering. It is the other pool requiring less extensive repairs.
Just steps away, though, a few people walked in and out of the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center. The Middle Branch-Cherry Hill indoor pool inside is open, one group of people said Thursday. They ventured into the afternoon heat still wearing their swimsuits.
The center opened last year. It was a $23 million project and was designed and built with city and state funds, along with money from South Baltimore Gateway Partnership.
Scott called it “the best pool in the city” outside of the Druid Hill Park pool at a Wednesday press conference, and mentioned it as an alternative to Cherry Hill’s closed outdoor splash park.
“There is no one in Cherry Hill that’s without a pool,” he said.
Cadence Quaranta contributed to this report.