The plight of Folwell Park

Folwell Park wading pool stands empty in the heat of summer, closed due to a leak.

Folwell Park wading pool stands empty in the heat of summer, closed due to a leak.

 

Wading pool closes

Folwell Park continues to break. There are now two major park amenities that are posted as “closed.” The tennis courts (deemed “unsafe”) and most recently the wading pool.

Folwell Park’s wading pool is currently closed due to a leak under the concrete pool decking. According to Shawn Hockett, Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board (MPRB) Park Operations Manager, North Service Area, the wading pool was filled prior to Memorial Day weekend, May 24. A leak was discovered the next day and the pool was drained and closed. MPRB decided to refill the pool the week of June 4. As time progressed the leaks became more significant, and on the weekend of June 23 the entire pool drained within 48 hours. The pool is now closed “until further notice.”

Communication fail
There has been little information volunteered by MPRB updating Folwell residents and park users on the future of the pool. The only communication about why the pool was initially closed came about as a result of concerned residents making repeated independent inquiries and sharing their findings on social media.

District 2 Park Board Commissioner Kale Severson and Hockett continue to be unresponsive to my further requests for a prognosis on when the wading pool will be repaired and re-opened to the public. A question that many folks here in Folwell are asking.

The following statement received on July 17 from MPRB’s Social Media and Media Relations Manager, Robin Smothers, was forthcoming after sending numerous emails to MPRB regarding both the condition of the pool and the many communication issues on the MPRB website: Folwell wading pool’s leaks are so severe it can no longer hold water. We have a consultant coming out next week [the week of July 23] to see what the cost would be to remove the deck and inspect the damage to see if it can be repaired and if so, what the cost (and time estimate) of repair would be.

I also requested from Hockett a five-year history of first fill and opening dates for the Folwell pool, because in talking to Folwell residents, it is the perception that the Folwell wading pool always opens late. This historical data has not been made available at the time of this writing.

* The ‘closed’ sign on the gate to the pool tells park visitors that they can go to the nearest pools at Cleveland or Victory. No explanation as to why the pool is empty. Over 50 percent of Folwell’s residents live in rental property, older homes, many of which do not have central air. Mobility is a problem. Walking to another park with small children in the heat of summer is not a practical choice.

* The sign that has finally been posted on the door of the Folwell Park Rec Center simply says the pool is closed until further notice. No explanation for the reason for the closure so that people might manage their expectations.

* MPRB communicates broadly and frequently on matters pertaining to the highly-publicized and troubled Webber Natural Swimming Pool. In contrast, the MPRB website has been inadequate in providing pertinent, or accurate, information on the City’s more modest wading pools. While a number of the following communication shortcomings have now been corrected thanks to recent exchanges between this writer and Smothers, the necessity for so many corrections and clarifications does not reflect well on MPRB’s ability to adequately serve the public through a well-maintained website.

* The Folwell Park page on the MPRB website does not state the wading pool is closed or provide any information on when it might re-open. This is currently the case on the park pages for almost all of the wading pools that are listed as closed across the MPRB park system.

* Until I exposed an outdated linking issue, the pool closures link on the MPRB park pages took the site visitor to an end-of-season 2017 listing of open/closed pools that stated that all wading pools were closed. And that the Webber Natural Swimming Pool was open. This outdated listing has now been removed, and an additional linking issue relating to the pool closure listing is in the process of being resolved.

* There was misleading information on seasonal closure dates for the City park pools on the majority of the park website pages. Out of the 65 parks with pools, 25 are located near or next to school buildings. The 25 pools that are aligned with schools close the day before Minneapolis Public Schools go back. The remaining 40 stay open until Labor Day. Yet, with the exception of the Webber Natural Swimming Pool page, MPRB’s website indicated pools all closed late August. MPRB has now posted more accurate information on the impacted park pages.

Is this Folwell’s plight?
Will the wading pool be left to the same fate as the tennis courts? The now derelict courts fell victim to “deferred maintenance.” A term used by MPRB to describe a budget decision-making process that, in Folwell’s case, resulted in the courts being neglected to the point that they will require extensive and expensive repair in order for tennis to once again be offered at Folwell Park. A side note, the Folwell Park MPRB website page continues to list tennis as an amenity, even though the courts have been closed for years. MPRB maintenance personnel “groom” the courts, keeping the weeds at a manageable height and employing a leaf blower to clear debris.

Without clear communication from either the City or MPRB, Northsiders are left to speculate on the immediate future of Folwell Park — one of the largest in Minneapolis. Folwell’s preferred concept plan awaiting final approval under the North Service Area Master Plan (a massive Citywide park redesign effort) includes a “relocated and improved wading pool.” There is concern, both among Folwell residents and some MPRB employees that I have spoken with, that a decision may be made by MPRB not to fix the existing wading pool at all. Instead, that MPRB may wait for the park redesign to be approved, knowing that a new pool (once funded and prioritized) will be in the works. Such a decision, should it occur, would leave Folwell Park without a wading pool for an indeterminate length of time.

There are a few indicators that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board hear us in Folwell. Are open to listening. But thus far only on a reactive basis. As is evidenced by my recent positive exchanges with Smothers on the MPRB website issues.

In the meantime – it’s hot out there!