Q: How can we raise money for a Belleville swimming pool? Your paper had a small item that publicized one of these walks by the Parks and Recreation Department and that some of the money was going to the swimming pool fund. So we want to know how to raise money to get the pool back.
Cathy Rainbolt, of Belleville
A: Unfortunately for swimming enthusiasts, the only things floating in Belleville right now is talk about how a new city pool might be financed and maintained.
In the past, leaders said they realized that a city the size of Belleville should have such a recreational facility. Towns far smaller than Belleville have them, and, besides, it’s a tradition the city once boasted about for more than a century. After all, it was in 1902 when Danish native Christian Ebsen bought nine acres off Lebanon Avenue. He dammed up several springs and opened a natatorium, where he taught “most of the inhabitants of St. Clair County how to swim,” his famous acting son, Buddy, wrote in his autobiography, “The Other Side of Oz.”
For more than a century, residents flocked to the area for summertime splashing, laps and diving — even fireworks and a swim show on the Fourth — as the Belleville Turners took over in 1925 before it was handed off to the city. But in October 2011, the Illinois Department of Public Health ordered the pool closed until updates to its drains were installed. The pool, rebuilt in 1976, also needed $60,000 to upgrade its electrical system, paint and staff training — not to mention an estimated half-million to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Having lost $100,000 in operating income over the prior seven years, Belleville decided not to open the pool for the 2012 season and demolished it three years later.
Since then, the city has made overtures to a number of potential partners, including schools, hospitals and recreation centers. The most promising seems to be Lindenwood University, but although its interest may have picked up again, talks are still in a very preliminary stage, Debbie Belleville, director of the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation, told me earlier this week.
She also is unaware of any effort to raise money for such a project, so I’m not sure what you may have read. She said she is looking into setting up a nonprofit fund to which residents could give tax-exempt donations, but that, like the pool, is still in the earliest planning stages, she said. If someone else is trying to do something privately, I’d love to hear about it.
Who is the only strictly American poet memorialized in the Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abby in London?
Answer to Wednesday’s trivia: In the latter half of the 19th century, the “lunatic fringe” had nothing to do with political fanaticism and everything to do with a hairdo that some people did not like. In July 1875, you would have found this critique in the Wheeling (W. Va.) Daily Register: “ ‘Lunatic fringe’ is the name given to the fashion of cropping the hair and letting the ends hang down over the forehead.” It wasn’t until 1913 when President Theodore Roosevelt gave it a whole new meaning when he wrote, “There is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement.”