Phillips Community Center, currently closed for repairs, is set to re-open in June, but when it does, it may be without its pool. Robert Albee, from Ventura Village, a Phillips neighborhood organization, said that he received a call from Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland on March 22 in which Vreeland said the pool would be destroyed on April 1.
“I thought it was an April Fool’s joke,” Albee wrote in an email. He has been organizing the community to both save the pool and make sure that the community center will become a much needed resource for all members of the neighborhood.
In an interview on March 23, Vreeland said that he wasn’t sure whether the pool would be destroyed on April 1. He said he was talking to staff about the issue. However, whether or not the pool is destroyed on April 1, Vreeland said: “We’ve never said there might be a chance to bringing the pool back to that location.
And the debate continues … emails published with permission:
Email from William Kingbury to Park Board members
Dear Scott and Annie,
Response from Annie Young, Park Board member
Thank you all for your comments and concerns regarding the use of the Phillips Community Center (also known as the Phillips Pool and Gym).
The building was originally a junior high school, built in 1926. In 1973, Wendell Phillips Junior High School worked with the the Model Cities Program to build a pool and gym. According to a 1989 Star Tribune article by Cheryl Johnson, the school closed in 1982. The building was slated for demolition. After pressure from the surrounding community, the city decided to salvage the pool and gym. The city provided $1.5 million to re-open the building as a community center in 1989. The primary tenant was the Boys and Girls Club, which subsequently leased the space for the next 20 years. The YWCA also rented space for a daycare center, and Pillsbury United Communities was the other tenant.
A March 17 community meeting about the pool was organized by Robert Albee and took place at The Center for Changing Lives. At that meeting, Jim Graham said that the Boys and Girls Club’s lease with the city entailed paying $1 plus maintenance costs, which were treated as rent. Graham said that when the Boys and Girls club left the space in 2008, there were millions of dollars of needed repairs, which the Park Board signed away for $40,000 from the Boys and Girls Club.
At the March 17 meeting, neighbors discussed both the issue of the pool and also other future uses of the building. People said they wanted youth programming, but also activities for elders and families, arts programming, and health and wellness activities.
Kamal Hassan, from the Somali community, said it would be great if there were opportunities for indoor soccer at the center, since he currently has to drive all the way to Hopkins to play. Another person mentioned that it would be great to have activities such as cooking classes.
Several people at the meeting also said they wanted a space that was safe for all ethnic groups. Though the Boys and Girls Club does not officially serve a particular ethnic group, Clyde Bellecourt, a Native American elder who used to run the Peace Maker Center, said that many of the Native American youth were afraid of going to PCC because of racial tensions between Black and Native American youth.
Chaka Mkali, with Hope Community, said that the underlying tension between the different ethnic groups is part of what makes it difficult to provide equal access to everyone. Phillips is divided into four sections: Ventura Village, Phillips West, East Phillips and Midtown Phillips. With the East Phillips Park still under construction and the Phillips Community Center closed, that means that youth have to cross neighborhoods, and sometimes gang lines to reach a place where they might be able to play sports after school.
Mkali said that so far the Park Board has not been able to address this issue. He hopes to do a racial impact analysis for the neighborhood. It is important to resolve what was impeding youth in going to parks and community centers, Mkali said, because research shows that most youth violence happens during after school hours. Ultimately, Mkali said it was important for all of the Phillips neighborhoods to work together to do what’s best for the youth and everyone in the community. “The park board tries to pit us against each other,” he said.
Park Board Commissioner Scott Vreeland said that there was only so much the park board could do because of budgetary constraints. “We’re looking at losing $3.4 million if the Pawlenty cuts go through,” he said. According to an MPR report last fall, the cost of repairing the roof and boiler so that the building could reopen, without fixing the pool, would total $500,000. Sufficient repairs to the building and pool to allow the pool to reopen are estimated to run in the millions.
Robert Albee said that the community is not asking the Park Board to repair the pool, but to give the neighborhood a chance to raise the money themselves to fix it. “We recognize that the Park Board has a limited budget,” he said. “But we’re willing to organize… How dare the Park Board destroy the only swimming pool they have without input from the community?”