Nineteen summers is a long time to wait for two chances to cool off, but that’s what it has been for the youngsters at Jones Park in East St. Louis.
The Kenneth Hall Water Park at Jones Park is open this summer for only the second time since it was built in 1997 for $550,000 to replace the aging Jones Park Pool. Lack of operating funds has been the barrier, East St. Louis Park District Director Irma Golliday said.
“It’s a relief,” said father of three Arbon Hairston, of East St. Louis. “They’re excited. It’s so hot and they love to be in the water.”
“It gives me a chance to do what I need to do during the day.”
The history of setbacks to opening the park’s splash pad includes an ongoing lack of operating funds and grant money being withdrawn.
The park’s community center was formerly the bath house for the old pool. It has been open and a focal point for youths in the community, but the splash pad sat just outside the center’s back door, largely unused.
After a series of false starts in 1997, 2000 and 2004, the splash pad was again set to open in 2012, but “we had a theft of the copper of the air conditioning units (at the community center) and the roof was leaking,” Golliday said.
A $200,000 grant from the Southwestern Illinois Development Authority got the community center ready to go in 2013. A youth grant through the state got the splash pad water flowing for 2013, but the next year the grant money was frozen and the splash pad was again dormant and remained closed for 2014.
This year, an $80,000 United Way grant has things going again. The grant mainly provides funding for the day camp for children at the park’s community center from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m, Monday through Friday.
Golliday said the summer operating budget for the splash pad’s staff, chlorine and miscellanious costs total about $7,000. The splash pad is open from 10 a.m to 4 p.m. weekdays and closed weekends.
At present, the United Way grant is a one-time gift, said foundation senior vice president for planning and education Julie Russell. “They could qualify for additional funding opportunities in the future,” Russell said.
“We’re hoping the program is successful and The United Way would want to fund it every year,” Golliday said. “We are very grateful because we wouldn’t have been able to open up.”
Day campers can learn computer skills, do arts and crafts, attend cooking classes and also go on field trips to the movies, roller skating and Grant’s Farm. About 150 breakfast and lunch meals are also served to about 100 campers each day at the center through a grant from the Illinois State Board of Education and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The kids are asked to pay $1 to attend the camp if they have it, but if they don’t, “we don’t turn kids away,” Golliday said.
Contact photographer Steve Nagy at email@example.com or 618-239-2470.