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Fate of Chester swimming pool murky; city thinking about other uses for site

  • The Chester Swimming Pool has been vacant since 2012. City leaders are looking at a plan to remove the old basin.

    The Chester Swimming Pool has been vacant since 2012. City leaders are looking at a plan to remove the old basin.
    Photo by Don Berry

  • A plan being looked at by the city council would remove the basin of the Chester Swimming Pool, but keep the pool house.

    A plan being looked at by the city council would remove the basin of the Chester Swimming Pool, but keep the pool house.
    Photo by Don Berry

  • The faded sign on the Chester Swimming Pool shows the wear on the 77-year-old structure.

    The faded sign on the Chester Swimming Pool shows the wear on the 77-year-old structure.
    Photo by Don Berry

 
By Don Berry
Contributing writer
updated: 4/18/2018 11:30 AM

The year was 1939. The United States was climbing out of the effects of the Great Depression. President Roosevelt had developed a plan to put people back to work. The Works Progress Administration began projects across the land.

Chester welcomed the assistance and had several projects under way -- among them the construction of the Chester Swimming Pool, which opened in 1941.

For more than 70 years, the pool was a magnet for community activity. Families purchased season passes, children took swimming lessons, teenagers worked as summer lifeguards and for many children, it was their home away from home during the summer months.

But today, the structure is empty and lifeless, a victim to changing times and deterioration. The pool closed in June 2014 after the cost to repair the structure -- which including sealing a large leak that was draining more than a million gallons a month from the pool -- became too prohibitive.

Chester's City Council has been discussing the fate of the pool for more than four years. Last month, the City Council heard a report from Alderman D. Michael Blechle about looking into removing the old pool basin, but leaving the pool house standing. Ideas for removal were discussed, including having the National Guard perform some of the work.

Many adults who spent their summers at the old pool have trouble understanding why nothing is being done, and Chester Mayor Tom Page says he understands residents' concerns.

"This pool holds many memories for our citizens," Page said, who recalled taking his daughters to the pool every summer after he moved to Chester in 1976. and taking his young daughters to the pool.

It is difficult to see a 70-year-old landmark disappear, he added, but the time has come.

Page notes the plan currently being examined to remove the basin is still only a plan. A study was made and no lead paint was found or other hazardous substances. The method of demolition is the next step.

One of the biggest obstacles is funding the project. The state of Illinois is behind payment of nearly $1.5 million to the city, Page said, which makes it difficult for any major project to begin.

Page said ideally he would like to see something the entire city could use. Many ideas have been mentioned for the site, such as a pavilion for outdoor entertainment, but those projects would also require funding, Page said. In the meantime, the park board and city council welcome input on the matter.

In addition to the structural issues, other factors worked into the pool's demise. The sliding boards were removed in the early 2000s as several injuries occurred with feet slipping off ladders or collisions with swimmers at the bottom of the slides. The high diving board was removed in 2012 as the ten-foot-deep landing area was deemed too shallow by insurance standards.

Attendance also dropped as water parks opened around the area and children found little excitement in just splashing around in a pool. Many families also began investing in their own pools and enjoyed the privacy of swimming in their backyards.