The new public aquatic center in the Greenview neighborhood reminds some residents of joyous summer days from their youth. For others, the $3 million upgrade restores their faith in people.
Carol Gaskins watched from her home as the pool and surrounding park where she frolicked as a child became eyesores as aging residents moved or passed away and trouble crept in.
She is overjoyed with the facility in one of Columbia’s first African-American suburbs that will open May 28 after a two-year overhaul. The pool not only will be refurbished, but will also feature a kiddie pool, a water slide and a picnic area.
“It’s gorgeous,” the 49-year-old Gaskins said of the water park that includes a lap pool, new bathhouses and other features that she can see from her home overlooking Greenview Park. “It’s a totally different place now.
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“Back when I was coming up, we were considered latchkey kids. The park was kind of like a babysitting service,” she said. “My brother learned to swim at Greenview Park.”
Within the past decade the city-owned pool and park slid into disrepair, Gaskins, a lifelong resident, said. Children’s slides, weakened with age, were marked with yellow caution tape to warn parents to be extra watchful.
As did the pool, the park deteriorated, she said. Its poor lighting made it easier for troublesome teenagers to take over at night. Drugs began showing up. “I remember lying in bed and hearing gunshots,” Gaskins said.
Now, two years after the pool closed for an overhaul, her 7-year-old son can barely restrain his excitement over the new center.
“He can’t stand it,” Gaskins said. “He said, ‘Mommy, ... I want granddad to come pick me up and take me every day.’ ”
“I’m excited for all the kids now,” she said.
Retired state Sen. Kay Patterson, a Greenview resident so long that he jokes he once shared a beer at his house with Union Gen. William Sherman, said government officials have come a long way in building a proper pool for his neighborhood.
Patterson recalls that in the mid-1960s when he was on the Richland County Recreation Commission, it built an Olympic-size pool in the predominantly white, well-to-do Trenholm Road area.
“They came out here and dug a hole, a little damn hole,” the always irreverent Patterson said. “That was our quote, pool, unquote. It was horrible.
“Separate but equal, you know,” he said, laughing hardily at the segregation-era term often mocked in the black community. “That was our equal pool to the Olympic-size pool.”
The city of Columbia took over the park after the neighborhood was annexed into the city in a series of annexation drives that ended in 1990.
“To see them come build this new pool,” Patterson said, “it kind of restores my faith in humanity.”
After various design plans, the refurbished facility offers a 24-meter, six-lane saltwater pool for swim meets and recreational swimmers. The kiddie pool doubles as a splash pad that sprays water, said senior assistant city manager Allison Baker. A water slide and picnic area provide new features for the neighborhood. And the facility – built with tax money that City Council set aside over a couple of years – is brightly lit.
Tennis courts adjacent to the pool have been resurfaced and new lighting has been installed as maintenance upgrades that are park-related but separate projects, Baker said.
Stanley McIntosh has coached the Greenview Swim Club for about 35 years. His swimmers have been unable to use their home pool while city officials debated and built the facility.
“Since we’ve been gone we lost the connection with the children in the community,” the 60-year-old coach said, “an out-of-sight out-of-mind kind of thing.”
The shutdown pushed the team to the pool in Maxcy Gregg Park near the University of South Carolina, then Columbia’s most expensive public pool. The team practiced and participated in swim meets at Maxcy Gregg, McIntosh said. “We have been unable to host meets because of the lack of a facility.”
He also hopes the recently established Keenan High School swim team will practice and compete at the Greenview’s new, multimillion-dollar pool.
The team, whose swimmers are 4 to 18 years, helped attract Greenview’s kids to the pool as well as to competitive swimming, said McIntosh, who has been a loud advocate for a new pool.
“I want us to get what everybody else gets – a brand new pool,” he said in 2012 when city officials were debating merely re-plastering the damaged, leaking pool.
Some Greenview swim team members have stopped by to sneak a peek in advance of the new pool’s May 21 ribbon-cutting, the coach said.
Gaskins hopes her childhood memories will be recaptured for Greenview’s children of today. “It went from a park that was full of life to a place where there was almost nothing,” she said.
She longs to see a return of Family Fun Days on Saturdays that once attracted residents from across North Columbia.
“Greenview Park – I consider it to be the heart of the neighborhood,” Gaskins said.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.
Drew Wellness Center upgrades
Columbia’s only public indoor pool also is undergoing a major renovation. Closed to swimmers in November, it is expected to reopen to by mid- to late-May.
WHAT’S BEING DONE: Pool is being replastered. The deck is being resurfaced. Showers and bathrooms are being upgraded. Lights in the pool and overhead are being replaced with LED lighting.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST: $1.1 million.
CENTER’S HISTORY: Opened in 2005, the Harden Street center, which doubles as a fitness facility, cost $8.8 million.
SOURCE: Columbia Parks and Recreation Department officials.