For years, some members of the Chapel Hill community have lobbied for the city’s park system to add a wading pool. Aquatic recreation areas have grown in popularity as inclusive and accessible ways to cool off and have fun.
On Monday, the City Council heard the results of a feasibility study on where to add a paddling pool and helped take steps to advance planning to bring one to Chapel Hill.
Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation Director Phillip Fleischmann said the wading pools are the buzz of the parks community.
“The wading pool in particular is an amenity that pops up all over park systems,” he told 97.9 The Hill. “There are some nearby in Mebane and Pittsboro, for example, so we would really like to have one here.”
After a petition from more than 800 members of the Chapel Hill community was delivered to the city last summer in favor of a wading pool, the Parks, Greenways and Recreation Commission voted unanimously in favor of adding one. The move helped the city officially start its planning process, with the first step being where a wading pool might make sense.
The feasibility study presented to Chapel Hill City Council on Monday shared data from six of the city’s parks and two social housing communities where potential playgrounds could work. The assessment looked at areas with the right size, infrastructure, parking and availability of utilities for a possible wading pool, as well as details such as access, age of facilities and socio-economic data. to help inform fair decision-making.
City council members shared that they were broadly in favor of a medium-sized paddling pool – navigating the cost of building facilities at the destination level, but a space larger than a pocket park. Many elected officials also loudly supported the recirculation model for paddling pools, meaning water would be collected, treated and reused on the same site.
Corresponding to what the feasibility study suggested, Council member Amy Ryan said these two elements of a wading pool led her to believe it would make sense to be near Chapel Hill’s existing aquatic centers .
“I think collocation, where possible, with swimming pools is really smart, especially if we have existing sanitary facilities,” Ryan said. “One of those things that really drives up the price is when we have to add parking, these toilets, changing rooms. So as we look at sites, that kind of colocation would be important to me.”
This option narrows the wading pool to three locations: Community Center Park, Hargraves Park, and Homestead Park. Council member Paris Miller-Foushee said of the three, Hargraves Park stood out as the most attractive option for her.
“I think it ticks all the boxes. In terms of proximity to a trail, greenway, downtown, [higher] population, our social housing, being able to improve the playing field, all of that. So for me, Hargraves definitely rises to the top.
Many others agree, adding that Homestead Park also presents itself as a good option based on the location of existing water and sewer infrastructure and parking availability.
Council member Adam Searing took his approval of the locations one step further. He said he felt Chapel Hill lagged other cities of a similar size in building such park attractions as wading pools. He argued for building more than one, if the city had identified multiple locations that fit their criteria.
“I would say we’re going to expand, try to catch up a bit with other communities,” Searing said. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time and absolutely let’s go ask what the community wants. But when I look at the work you’ve done, I think it’s two destinations: Hargraves [for the] most people, Homestead [for the] most parking lots.
However, any construction of a paddling pool is far from being revolutionary. The parks and planning departments will now step up their community engagement efforts to see where residents would prefer water space.
Fleischmann said another major thing remains to be determined: where the city will get the money to pay for the playgrounds.
“At present, the projects are not funded,” said the director of parks. “So really, this exploration is a good start to see what it would take to bring one here. And then later on there will be conversations that will take place around the funding element of this [study].”
From the city council and hundreds of community members, however, there is clear interest in a new way to cool off.
Featured photo via City of Chapel Hill.
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