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Ten Cents a Swim

The importance of community pools in the COVID age

JUDITH LEBLEIN JOSEPHS, CPRP, RA, Past-President, New Jersey Recreation and Park Association; President, JLJ Enterprises LLC

I owe my career to the City of Newark’s Department of Baths and Pools, in particular Boylan Street Pool. Sure, the summer playground program was a great deal of inspiration, but in 1961 when I was old enough to make the trek up South Orange Avenue with my siblings to go to Boylan Street Pool, my life was forever changed. This was not just a swimming pool for this little girl from a housing project, this was an oasis from the hot asphalt of the playground. An oasis that cost only 10 cents a swim. I made friends from other neighborhoods, I learned to swim for free, and later joined the swim team. I wore my learn to swim badges proudly and still have some medals from those meets.

Ultimately, my time at Boylan Street Pool turned into my first job as a Lifeguard at Newark’s Camp Watershed. Fast forward, my career would lead to 40 years in recreation, parks, aquatics, and as an operations analyst for aquatic development, the World Waterpark Hall of Fame, and in the Aquatics International Magazine’s Power 25. All from ten cents a swim. That time in Boylan Street Pool inspired a commitment for me to share that same amazing experience in aquatics whenever and wherever I could. Now operating a public swimming pool in the State of New Jersey may appear easy to most. Even under perfect conditions, it is a difficult task requiring multiple certifications, and understanding of state regulations, a bit of chemistry, first aid, CPR, water rescue, maintenance, food and beverage, disease control, and risk management. Easy right? Well-seasoned aquatic managers make it look that way. Add to those responsibilities a worldwide pandemic and you have a monumental undertaking.

Overcoming a crisis

The timing of the COVID-19 shut down occurred just when most public pools were getting prepared for opening. Although we all knew that chlorinated water did not spread the disease, we still had great reservations about opening facilities due to touchpoints, disease spread, contamination, PPE shortages, staff and guest safety, and pending regulations.

Prior to the release of the Recreational Bathing Regulations due to COVID from the Department of Health, NJ communities made decisions to open or close for the season fueled by safety, finance, liability, and political concerns. Since the shutdown and schools going virtual, residents of many communities were begging for swim facilities to open, while most things were closed due to understandable concerns for public safety.

What came out of the summer of 2020 for those that chose to open was a new willingness to do business differently than in other years. Clever staffs spent countless hours trying to come up with reservation policies, new fees and charges, or a totally new way to do business. Besides the health concerns over COVID-19, the other major concern was revenue.

Over the years, public swimming pools became budgeting challenges. Unlike open spaces, fields, and playgrounds they were proprietary in nature. They had fences and gates and admission could be charged. We began to try to find ways to maximize revenues, provide affordable facilities and provide scholarships when possible. In an effort to keep more public swimming facilities open and thriving, I have often wondered to myself WHY? Field s, tennis courts, and other recreation public facilities are expensive to build and maintain, but there is seldom a gate or an admission counter. When did we lose our way here in the Garden State? There was a time that those who attended a public college in New Jersey had to prove they could swim, or at least save themselves, to graduate. I know because that was my job on campus at Kean University, then Newark State. After all, we are a state with the Atlantic Ocean on our border, the Delaware River, lakes, streams, pools, and ponds. When did learning to swim and the public swim pool life experience become so revenue-driven? My fear is that those public pools that found creative ways to function under COVID-1 9 will continue to prosper. Bu t those that chose not to open or those who could now be facing large budget cuts and shortfalls due to COVID-19, such as our cities, may lose these unbelievably valuable resources for families and children. What did the communities who

operated their pools last summer learn? They learned that they are an essential part of community life. They are the community centers without walls during the summer. They learned that perhaps the way they have been doing business did not truly allow for social equity, diversity, and access. There are many different aquatic venues in New Jersey who when confronted with COVID-19 did not speak with one voice on the benefits of swimming to the mental, physical, and emotional health of a community. A positive outcome of this pandemic is a renewed energy about swim safety in New Jersey by a newly formed NJ Swim Safety Alliance in cooperation with the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association.

Together we hope to bring attention to the need for safe, clean, and accessible swimming facilities in the lives of our families while combatting drowning here in New Jersey.

So, I never did become a mermaid. At least not the kind at Weeki Wachi. But as I would tell my dad upon coming home from Boylan Street Pool all about my day he would say, “all that for ten cents a swim?” I am determined to pay it forward

Reprinted with the permission of Judith Leblein Josephs Originally published here:


Judith Leblein Josephs, CPRP, RA has been in the field of recreation, parks, aquatics, and amusements for the past 40 years. A born and raised native of Newark, NJ, and child of two Newark Civil Servants, she has had a commitment to service. She is a Past President of the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association, a member of the NJ Swim Safety Alliance Board, and the author of “Aquatic Center Marketing.” She is currently the President of a boutique park, recreation, and aquatics consulting firm.

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