Swimming instruction and recreational access to pools are core features of Mayor Wu’s summer youth plan, but there’s little lesson-taking, cooling off, or exercising in city-owned facilities in Dorchester and Mattapan this record-hot summer because all of the six city-owned pools in the two neighborhoods have been closed this season while waiting on deferred maintenance repairs that have been slowed to a crawl by bureaucratic red tape.
According to the BCYF website and a Reporter review, pools in Dorchester at the Holland School on Geneva Avenue, the Leahy-Holloran Community Center on Worrell Street, the Marshall Community Center on Westville Street, the Perkins Community Center on Talbot Avenue, are closed. The two city-owned pools in Mattapan— at the Mattahunt Community Center and the Mildred Avenue Community Center— are also off-limits this summer.
Only one city-run pool is open and close to either neighborhood – the Mason Pool on Norfolk Avenue in Roxbury near the Dorchester line.
While there are pools closed across the city, many neighborhoods enjoy ones that are operating or are about to open after repair work. There is no indication that any of the closed Dorchester or Mattapan facilities will re-open this season.
As to details about the multiple closings in Dorchester and Mattapan, a city spokesperson offered the following: The Marshall is in a BPS building that is undergoing HVAC work; the same is true of the Leahy-Holloran center; the Holland pool needs repairs for a variety of equipment issues; and the Mildred Avenue center flooded a few weeks ago. That facility needs repairs to fix drains leading to the locker rooms, as well as HVAC issue fixes like the Marshall.
“Boston is modernizing municipal facilities around the city that, due to years of deferred maintenance, are not up to the standards our families deserve,” read a statement from the spokesperson. “The administration recently launched a Resilient Buildings Plan to ensure that moving forward we can better keep up maintenance work and prevent prolonged closures of our city’s beloved facilities.”
But some residents say the official explanation is insufficient. Shirley Jones, a Meetinghouse Hill resident, has been bringing her grandkids and foster kids to other cities to swim. She laments the facts that there are taxpayer-funded facilities close to home that aren’t open.
“I take my children and grandchildren to the Quincy YMCA. Then we also go to the Holbrook YMCA to swim,” she said. “We have to travel far to swim even though we could just walk over to the Holland or the Marshall, but they are both closed.”
The lack of urgency in fixing pools that have been offline is maddening, said Jones. “This is all nothing new, yet the pool is still closed,” she said. “There’s no swimming for these kids. The seniors have no place to go swim and cool off. They didn’t know about this just now – they even knew about it before the pandemic.”
Last week, during an unrelated tour of the Mildred Avenue center observed by the Reporter, the closed-off pool facility was the subject of questions. City workers could only explain that there were budget issues preventing it from being fixed and no one knew when it might open. Meanwhile, dozens of kids played foosball in a nearby room, and scores of senior citizens relaxed upstairs in the lunchroom.
Barbara Crichlow, who helps to organize a senior program there, said it was “the icing on the cake during a heatwave,” adding to the many discrepancies she has observed like this in city services in Mattapan. The Mildred Avenue pool was closed in April 2022. It reopened later in the year but is closed again due to a maintenance problem. Children at the Mildred who wish to swim, or learn to swim, are currently bused to the Flaherty Pool in Roslindale, or to the privately-operated Blue Hill Boys & Girls Club pool, which must be rented for city use, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.
City Councillor Erin Murphy held hearings on “facilities preparedness” for the summer last February. She said her efforts haven’t borne fruit because more than half of the city-owned pools are closed at the height of a torrid summer.
“Having 10 of 18 pools closed to kids who should be splashing around and cooling off is unacceptable,” she said. “It’s really maddening because it’s not like this is something that couldn’t have been foreseen. Not everyone lives near a beach or can hop in a car and drive to one outside the city.”
Councillor Brian Worrell, who represents District 4, agreed with Murphy. “There’s no excuse for city pools to be closed during dangerously hot weather like what we’re experiencing,” he said. “This issue demands urgency. It’s a public health concern that has the greatest impact on my constituents and people of color across Boston.”
His brother, state Rep. Chris Worrell, said he was first alerted to the situation at the Marshall School, where the closure has been chalked up to faulty repairs.
“This is essential for our young Black and brown kids in the district,” he said. “My son and daughter need to go outside the community to learn to swim when there are three or four pools within walking distance of our home. This needs to be addressed and fixed once and for all. These pools could literally be a year-round opportunity for our kids to get outside of the house.”
While the Wu administration noted that deferred maintenance has been a long-term problem at city facilities, sources familiar with the problem say it’s also about red tape, with BCYF and BPS feuding over who owns the pools and whose budget should be used to fix them. BCYF contends they only operate the pools, and BPS owns them. BPS sees it the opposite way: That BCYF owns the pools, and they just happen to be in BPS buildings.
The Mayor’s office did not address the bureaucratic problem outlined above when asked about it, the sources said lifeguard shortages were not an issue any longer, as they were last year.
For her part, Shirley Jones just wants to see her children and grandchildren be able to go swimming without driving out of town. “We can’t let it go on like this; I had people in the community that wanted to work with me on this,” she said, “but the issue wasn’t getting any traction.”