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City families upset about pool, rec center closings

Thursday, August 07, 2003

By Carmen J. Lee, Post-Gazette Education Writer

Lamont Johns grew up in the Hill District and remembers playing basketball at the Ammon Recreation Center on Bedford Avenue and working as a lifeguard at the Ammon pool.

Christina Green, of the Hill District, says it's "not right" that the mayor plans to close the Ammon recreation center and swimming pool across from her home. With Green are her daughter, Queen, 5, left, and her daughter's friend, Shalinda Moore, 4. (Lake Fong, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

What's closing

The following city swimming pools will close at the end of business tomorrow:

Ammon, Hill District
Arlington
Banksville
Beechwood, Beechview
Bloomfield
Broadhead, Broadhead Manor
Brookline
Burgwin, Hazelwood
Cowley, North Side
East Hills
Fowler, Perry Hilltop
Homewood
Jack Stack, Brighton Heights
Leslie, Lawrenceville
Magee, Greenfield
Manchester
McBride, Lincoln Place
Oliver, South Side (Indoor, normally open year-round)
Ormsby, South Side
Paulson, Larimer
Phillips, Carrick
Ream, Mount Washington
St. Clair, St. Clair Village
Sheraden
Warrington
West Penn, Polish Hill

These city pools will remain open through Labor Day:
Highland, Highland Park
Moore, Brookline
Riverview, Perry North
Schenley, Squirrel Hill
Sue Murray, Allegheny Center
Westwood

The following senior citizen centers will close at the end of 2003:

Perry South
Troy Hill
Oakland
Windgap-Chartiers


As he picked up his son, Rico, 13, from a day of summer activities at Ammon yesterday, Johns was shocked to hear that both the center and the pool are slated to close as part of Mayor Tom Murphy's spending cuts.

"What are these people going to do? What are these kids going to do? This is keeping them out of trouble. ... He's throwing them out in the street. That's crazy!" said Johns, of Wilkinsburg. "They're going to pay one way or another."

Among the massive cuts Murphy announced yesterday to help fill a $60 million shortfall in the city's $386 million budget were plans to close 26 of the city's 32 city pools tomorrow, leaving only the largest six open.

Also slated to close are all 19 city recreation centers, which provide a variety of activities for local communities such as field trips for children, sports and fitness programs, and arts and crafts.

In addition, the announcement calls for closing the Perry South, Troy Hill, Oakland and Windgap-Chartiers senior centers, while leaving open 13 others that are owned and operated by the city.

The range of programs at each varies by location, as does the number of people served. Generally, the centers are open weekdays to provide low-cost or free lunches, recreational activities, health screenings, consumer information and referrals for programs of special interest to individuals 60 and older.

Employees at the different centers across the city declined to talk about the closings, saying they were not allowed to talk with the news media and that doing so would jeopardize any hope of future employment.

But several other city residents echoed Johns' sentiments and added a few of their own.

"Shut down the swimming pool? Have they lost their minds? What are the kids going to do to keep out of trouble?" asked Rita Bostic, who lives across the street from the Ammon center.

When Bostic got the news, she had been enjoying the sunny summer day on her front porch with her husband, Vince; her daughter, Christina Green; 5-year-old granddaughter, Queen Green; family friend, Pat Body; and two other neighborhood children.

But the thought of losing the community center cast an immediate pall on the adults in the group.

"That's not right. He's going to catch hell," Green said, referring to the mayor.

"They think crime's bad now. They ain't seen nothing yet," Body warned.

Crystal Mulvey, of Carrick, was walking over to the South Side Market House Recreation Center with her two sons, Bailey, 4, and Zachary, 2, when she learned that not only was the center closing but also that two others her family visits would be, too -- Phillips in Carrick and Ormsby, also on the South Side.

"That's messed up. My kids play at all three," she said. "Where I live there are no playgrounds. I don't have a yard. I don't drive. I have to take public transportation. Where are they going to have a safe place to play?"

Roshell Urquhart recently moved to Pittsburgh from Fayetteville, N.C., and is staying with a friend on the South Side. She said the recreation centers' closings may determine whether her son, Gary, 7, who is staying with her this summer, will be able to move to Pittsburgh permanently. He now lives with her aunt in North Carolina.

"There's no place for kids to play, nothing but streets and buses," Urquhart said. "They need this for the kids, definitely. They need something for them to do. That's why they have a problem with people in Pittsburgh wanting to move."


Carmen Lee can be reached at clee@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1884.

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