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Murky Waters

Parks and Rec proposes facelifts for two municipal pools

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When Lowell Pool opened on a summer evening in 1953, it drew 250 swimmers, according to the Boise City Department of Arts and History. It was an exciting addition to the 28th Street neighborhood, which at the time included a grocer and a burger joint across the street from the municipal pool.

More than 60 years later, the burger joint is gone but the pool is still a neighborhood landmark; but nothing stays the same forever. Lowell Pool and its sister South Pool, next to South Junior High, are up for modernization.

"They're both very old swimming pools," Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway told Boise Weekly. "They have a number of maintenance concerns and they're not 21st century pools."

Access to the Lowell Pool deck is through a narrow cinderblock hallway lined with showers and changing stalls. Pipes are exposed overhead, and there's a steep concrete staircase to the outdoor pool.

Holloway sees plenty of reasons to modernize these above-ground pools. Right now, he said, they're nothing more than bodies of water equipped with diving boards. He compared Lowell and South with Ivywild Pool, which has diving boards, slides and a kiddie pool with toys. It is also a zero-entry pool, which means it slopes gradually instead of having a 3-foot-deep shallow end--patrons at Ivywild don't need to have any swimming capability to get in.

Lap swimming is also not an option in the oval-shaped Lowell Pool. Holloway said it isn't big enough to be used for swimming competitions and "it's not real family-friendly."

Some like the pool as it is, without the "bells and whistles."

Renda Palmer sat poolside as her 14-year-old daughter swam on a recent Friday afternoon. Her daughter practices five days a week at Lowell as part of the local swim team, and the mother and daughter swim in the neighborhood pool another two or three afternoons a week on top of that.

"This is what we do in the summertime," said Palmer, who is an art teacher at Longfellow Elementary, giving her the summers off to spend with her kids. "My son was born June 21, 10 years ago and we came the week after he was born."

Palmer and her kids used to go to the Natatorium on Warm Springs Avenue, but she likes Lowell because it's off the beaten path. Only a dozen other kids and one older couple were swimming alongside her daughter. A blonde teenage lifeguard in a red swimsuit and a fresh Henna tattoo gently reminded the kids, "No running, no running." A few other moms sat on towels around the side, tanning in the 100-degree heat.

"The Nat gets overrun with day camps and kids," Palmer said. "So we started coming to Lowell because it doesn't have that capability, so it's not as busy. I mean, there would be 30 or 40 kids and two teenage lifeguards, you know? This is more relaxed. It feels like your own personal pool."

Palmer lives near the Boise Co-op, in a neighborhood that doesn't have a pool, but she's happy to travel the 20 or so blocks a few times a week to access Lowell. Indeed, the pool draws lots of neighborhoods together, Holloway said.

"It has a unique connection," he said. "You can get there from Elm Grove Park, from the North End but also the West End of downtown. It's an attractive site right there because it can serve a wide range of neighborhoods. There's a multitude of reasons to rebuild that one."

Another reason: It's falling apart. Holloway said it's nothing urgent, just minor leaks and cracks along the bottom.

"It's just antiquated. They're both older pools that need rebuilding," Holloway said, though he added it doesn't cost the city much to maintain.

The Boise City Council wasn't excited about Parks and Rec's proposal for Lowell and South pools, especially Councilwoman Lauren McLean, who said her kids grew up swimming at Lowell. Even today, she likes to go during the evening swim hours and watch kids bike down from nearby neighborhoods.

"Both South and Lowell pools are, I think, very special for both their architectural uniqueness and for the communities they have created for the kids in those neighborhoods," McLean told BW. "So I think it's really important that we come up with a creative design that reflects the uniqueness of these pools and allows the recreational opportunities that these communities need and deserve."

The council doesn't expect the structures of the pools to stay exactly the same, but McLean said keeping the iconic Art Deco entrance as a statue is not enough.

The Art Deco theme is a surprising one. The Boise City Arts and History Department said Lowell and South pools are possibly some of the last Art Deco buildings built in Boise, since it was a style popular in the '20s and '30s, and the pools weren't built until two decades later. It's also possible that the pools revived local interest in Art Deco style in the 1950s.

"I challenge the Parks Department to come up with a creative, fun design that pays homage to the past and creates a fun place for our kids," McLean said.

Holloway is unsure how feasible it is to fit modern-day improvements into a similar structure.

"It would be great to have those pools look like they do now but with slides and cool things," he said. "If you could wave the magic wand and make it look exactly like it does now, but bring it into the 21st century with a kiddie area and a shallow end, a slide, all the components of a modern-day pool, in that structure, that's the direction the council wants to go. But that's for the experts. We'll just have to get back to the drawing board. I don't know what that's going to look like."

Once a new plan is ironed out, it will have to be approved by the council and allocated funding. That may take years.

"I think it's doable, if we're being creative about it," McLean said. "I think we can meet current needs and keep the history. I imagine an architect would enjoy the creative challenge."