It seems the days are numbered for Jane and Seville, the twin concrete whales that for years have added splashy fountains of water to the 1.5-foot-deep wading pool at Palmer Park in Janesville.
The two whales (Stick their names together and you get “Jane-Seville.” Get it?) could be removed along with most everything else that has made the 8,000-square-foot, young children’s wading pool operate nearly every summer for the last 84 years.
Officials from Janesville’s parks division say a consultant has recommended completely replacing Palmer Park’s aging, circa-1936 wading pool with a comparatively sized, zero depth-entry pool that could be up 4 feet deep.
It’s a project the city has not yet planned, approved or scheduled through its capital improvements plan, but the work could ultimately run between $2.5 million to $4 million, according to city documents released earlier in the fall.
According to an analysis by Madison consulting firm Parkitecture and Planning, Palmer Park’s Great Depression-era wading pool has reached the end of its lifespan.
City officials say simple repairs of the aging pool and its worn, leaky infrastructure won’t bring the pool up to modern codes for aquatic facilities affordably.
Last week, Janesville Parks Director Cullen Slapak and Janesville Recreation Director Shelley Slapak showed The Gazette the basin of the pool and some of its aged mechanical elements. The pool is now drained and closed for the fall.
The pool’s major problems include depressions, cracks and fault lines in the concrete slab at the bottom of the 63,000-gallon pool that the city and its consultant say tend to develop during freeze-thaw cycles in winter. That damage is leading to significant leaks and water loss to the pool, Cullen Slapak said.
The city continues to repair seams in the concrete with new caulking, but the pool’s newest water pumps and sanitation filters are now nearly 30 years old, and some infrastructure that drains and fills the pool is original from when the pool was first built in the 1930s.
Shelley Slapak said the parks department’s plan is to continue to make “Band-Aid repairs” to the pool over the winter and reopen the old wading pool in 2022. Meanwhile, she said, the department will pursue grants and other funding sources to conduct a design study for a new pool facility at Palmer.
She said an “aggressive” timeline would be for the city to launch the pool’s full replacement as early as late 2022 or 2023, although the city hasn’t yet set its capital improvements schedule for the next few years.
Both Cullen and Shelley Slapak said that the bulk of repairs and upgrades are beyond the scope of simple replacement. That is because of the pool basin’s sagging, leaky slab but also because most of old infrastructure and mechanicals are grandfathered in but don’t meet current codes.
The wading pool at Palmer Park has “hundreds” of users a day, Shelley Slapak said. And prior to the pandemic, she said, the pool continued in recent years to net about 20,000 users a year.
That gives the city an inkling that people who live on the east side continue to gravitate toward the wading pool even in its worn condition—and despite the fact that neither the pool nor Palmer Park itself have onsite changing rooms or showers for the pool’s users.
Under proposals in the city’s consultant report, the top-end cost of the project—$4 million would include a modern, code compliant locker room inside the pool area where the pool’s current mechanical and lifeguard outbuilding now is, along with a 5,000-square-foot, zero depth entry pool that could be used by children of a broader age demographic.
Now, only children 8 and younger can use the pool.
The wading pool is one of two pools the city operates, including the Rockport Park pool—a full-size pool facility on the west side. Riverside Park on the city’s northwest side had a smaller wading pool built about the same time as the Palmer Park pool, but the city removed the Riverside wading pool and added a zero-depth splash pad in 2015.
Rockport pool is designated in the consultant’s reports as needing some repair work, but the condition of its mechanicals and slab aren’t considered to be in critical need of replacement like the pool at Palmer Park.
Some other concepts within the report show possible splash pad infrastructure located within the grassy footprint around the pool, along with lap-swimming lanes on the deeper end of the pool.
Shelley Slapak said the parks department’s survey of Palmer Park pool’s users in the past indicated that some families want a deeper pool so their older children can use the facility.
She said Janesville for years has embraced its wading pool, but the big pool and its two concrete whales are viewed as more of an anomaly in modern-day aquatics.
“Wading pools have never really been popular. A zero-depth entry pool is modern design, and that’s what families are looking for now,” she said.