It hasn’t been a good summer for Elishia Sosa and her three children, when it comes to using the city’s Woodland Acres Swimming Pool and some of the other aquatic centers.
The city initially opened only half of its 34 municipal pools due to maintenance and staffing issues, then managed to get five more open in recent weeks. Jacksonville officials have promised next year will be better at the pools.
But for Sosa, the decrepit state of the bathrooms at Woodland Acres, plus last-minute cancellations of swim lessons there, have left her frustrated.
When she sent a detailed list of issues to city aquatics officials, she got no response.
“I am appalled. I am honestly embarrassed that the city of Jacksonville, the city I call home and take pride in, would have facilities like this that are open for families to use,” the Arlington mother told Jacksonville Today. “It’s disgusting, and I am just really humiliated.”
City officials did announce some major changes in pool operations and funding for next summer, but they did not respond to a detailed list of issues that Sosa sent to the aquatics director recently. When Jacksonville Today passed her concerns to the city as well, city officials declined to be interviewed.
The city did send a brief email in response, stating that its Aquatics Division is “working daily to ensure our pools are safe and citizens have the best experience during their visit.”
“The JaxParks team is developing a plan of action that will improve our aquatic facilities by updating the infrastructure that operates the pools,” the email said. “Also, we are providing additional staff training for the seasonal team members that facilitate programming for the pools over the summer. Completing these two goals will ultimately impact the overall user experience of the public and program participants looking to use one of our many city pools.”
Mayor Donna Deegan has met with Parks and Recreation officials to discuss short- and long-term solutions, including partnerships with nonprofit agencies that would make use of more community pools that are open. The city also is looking at ways to work with nonprofits to transport children to those pools, if the one closest to them isn’t open. A total of $500,000 will be added to the pool budget for maintenance, and city officials are looking to make lifeguards’ pay more competitive ahead of the 2024 summer.
That said, all city pools are scheduled to halt weekday hours as of Friday, since Duval County schools reopen Aug. 15. Outdoor pools do stay open through Labor Day, but only on weekends, the city says.
As for Sosa, she faced numerous issues when she tried to use the pool in Woodland Acres and elsewhere. What she saw and experienced prompted an early July email to the city’s director of aquatics in early July. The issues included poor or untimely communication from staff, rude instructors and rundown facilities that included “bathrooms that are gross and out of order,” she wrote.
In a detailed email, she said she faced multiple canceled lessons, one due to a pH balance in the water. These lessons were canceled just before they were scheduled to start.
“Thankfully I’m only 15 minutes away from the pool,” she wrote to the city. “But I know some families that are traveling with vans full of kids 25-plus minutes each way. What a waste of all our time in preparing and traveling to lessons because cancellation calls weren’t made in a timely manner.”
Sosa also was appalled by the state of pool bathrooms, calling those at the Woodland Acres and Terry Parker pools “disgusting” as she took photos of their rusting sinks and toilets with peeling paint. The Woodland Acres’ sinks are taped off since they are unusable. A portable sink is installed nearby to compensate, one photo shows.
Sosa also said the city is wasting money since lifeguards and instructors are “literally just sitting around and pools are sitting unused” due to canceled lessons and pool problems. And when last-minute cancellations forced her to try the Lonnie Wurn Park city pool, only to find it was closed due to pump problems, Sosa said she felt like a “back and forth yo-yo.”
“At the end of the day, I would rather (have) a few really great pools than spread out all over with hit or miss, whether they are operating and functional, than facilities that look like the photos with bathrooms that are pretty disgusting,” Sosa told Jacksonville Today. “I hope that the city will use the resources they have currently to better maintain these pools and resources. If they could just clean up what the have, that would be nice.”