There’s been a lot of upset since the Underwood Pool opened on Wednesday afternoon with the announcement that the diving board had been removed and the platform is off limits for the duration of the summer season.
I was among those standing in the hot sun, newly purchased pool tags in hand and kids in tow, when the Pool Director made this announcement. The crowd’s reaction was one of disbelief, sadness and pique.
The diving board has been not only a “nice extra” for all these years, it’s been a goal, a target for each new swimmer to aim for as the sign of his or her increasing expertise. And the absence of diving – or jumping of any kind for that matter – now turns the pool into a rather uninviting venue for anyone over 10 years old. What had been one of the few public spaces that was simultaneously welcoming to kids, teenagers, and parents is now a large wading pool.
So what exactly precipitated this decision? From what I can glean from talking with several town officials, the call was based on a concern for safety. Clearly state regulations (for state swimming facilities) are trending toward the elimination of both diving areas and deep ends of pools. The decision was made in Belmont because the radius of water in the deepest part of the pool apparently would not meet current regulations.
Diving at the Underwood Pool certainly represents a risk, but it does not represent a new risk. And let’s face it – everything we do has risk. A certain number of people will die each year falling out of bed while sleeping, a certain number will choke while eating, will crash while driving, and certainly there will be tragic fatalities in and around pools.
As a result, Public Health officials do enact laws to protect the public’s safety. But they do so based on data. Seat belt laws were passed after data on serious injury without the use of seatbelts became overwhelming. And the warning label on cigarettes occurred after a causal link of cigarette smoking and cancer was established.
But, where’s the data that diving at this pool has actually caused harm? There simply is not any data to support that claim. I expect someone (perhaps not unreasonably) is weighing legal/insurance considerations against services/staffing questions, but this result seems tilted in the extreme away from customer service.
Let’s face it, anyone who has spent as much as an afternoon at the Underwood Pool knows it is a tired, ailing facility. The bathhouse is in an appalling state of decrepitude, the filtration system is vulnerable, the water table remains a complex issue, and many tender toes have been bloodied as a result of the rough surface of the pool’s bottom. I’ve heard that town officials are trying to lay the groundwork for major pool improvements and this is great news. But why do we have to lose what we have in the meantime?
Part of this equation that I find unsettling is the slippery slope that the “safety” argument points toward. If the diving board is removed because of the potential for injury and the desire to keep our children safe – then what’s next? Will lacrosse, hockey, and football programs be shut down? Will field trips be cancelled because there are occasional bus accidents?
So, here’s what I suggest along the lines of finding a reasonable and safe compromise while this issue is being explored further: even if the diving board cannot be restored, I’m not sure why access to the island and any jumping at all has to be forbidden. If “diving” must be restricted, well that’s one thing, but kids have also been jumping for a century and I don’t think there’s any regulation regarding that. Also, and perhaps more importantly, kids who jump will be landing in the deepest part of the radius, which obviates the depth concern.
Finally, I have the utmost respect for our town officials who are charged with making tough decisions – from the cancellation of school on a snowy morning all the way up to determinations regarding our decaying infrastructure in the face of constant budget shortfalls. I guess what was missing this time around was any communication with residents. When the decision was made Wednesday morning to remove the diving board and ban island activity, an email blast – the Recreation Department has this data – explaining what had happened and why would have gone a long way to assuage the upset that has been steadily rising since last week.
Someone said to me this morning: “Don’t make too big a deal out of this, the kids will adjust and have fun all the same.” Maybe this is true and maybe it’s not true. But do we really need to make it more difficult to keep our older kids moving, engaged, and outdoors?