T.S. Eliot once wrote "April is the cruelest month," but if Eliot lived in south Louisiana, he might have rethought that line once August rolled around. Last week drove that point home, with heat indices in New Orleans and surrounding parishes hovering near 110 degrees and heat advisories and warnings issued by medical professionals and the National Weather Service.
Mid-summer seems a terrible time to have public swimming pools close for the year, but that's what happened two weeks ago. The city's recreation department shut down most municipal swimming pools just as the local heat wave was building. Two indoor pools are open year-round: one in Joe W. Brown Park in eastern New Orleans and one in the new Treme Recreation Center. While the two indoor pools offer surrounding neighborhoods a welcome break from the heat, they are not readily accessible to kids and their families in many parts of town.
Some recreation advocates complained, but Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration pointed out that the closure was hardly a surprise. Indeed, the dates of pool operation were announced earlier this year. City Hall also noted that keeping the pools open was a priority when school wasn't in session. Many of the city's public schools begin classes during the first two weeks of August, so the pools closed this year on July 29.
In his first budget, Landrieu doubled the amount of money going to New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC), saying the citizens had spoken, and that investing in recreation for young people outweighed whatever economies had to be taken with the city pocketbook. Landrieu and citizens were right to make NORDC a priority, and it's hard to imagine a better use of recreation funds than keeping pools open on hot summer days — whether or not schools are open. It's worth noting that the pools are used by New Orleanians of all ages, not just schoolchildren.
Keeping pools open also dovetails with the goals of NOLA For Life, the city's stop-the-violence program. One of NOLA For Life's most popular programs — now in its fourth year — is its Midnight Basketball League, which is designed to provide "safe recreational opportunities" for young men during New Orleans' long, brutal summers. According to the program's website, more than 3,000 participants came out during the first three seasons of Midnight Basketball, and the city credits the basketball program with providing a positive activity for young people who may otherwise become perpetrators or victims of crime. Surely swimming provides many of the same social and recreational benefits — for people of all ages — and it has an added benefit: It's refreshing.
New Orleans City Council Vice President Stacy Head told Robert Morris of our online partner Uptown Messenger that the ultimate decision about pool hours was up to the NORDC, but that she sympathized with those who wanted the pools to stay open at least through August.
"I believe that keeping the pools open one more week and/or through the weekends until Labor Day would be an appropriate use of NORDC funds," Head told Morris. We agree.
Now is the time to give NORDC and the Landrieu administration feedback about the 2014 municipal budget. Landrieu's annual "Budgeting for Outcomes" meetings begin this week and run through the end of the month, one in each council district (see schedule below). All meetings start at 6 p.m., but residents are urged to arrive at 5:30 p.m., when representatives from various city departments and agencies will be available to discuss specific concerns and answer questions. This is your chance to tell elected and appointed officials you want to see increased hours at municipal swimming pools — as well as anything else that's on your mind.
District C (Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson-Palmer)
Tuesday, Aug. 13
L.B. Landry High School
1200 L.B. Landry Ave.
District A (Councilwoman Susan Guidry)
Tuesday, Aug. 20
Edward Hynes Charter School
990 Harrison Ave.
District E (Councilman James Gray)
Thursday, Aug. 22
Joe W. Brown Recreation Center
5601 Read Blvd.
District D (Councilwoman Cynthia Hedge-Morrell)
Monday, Aug. 26
Lake Area New Tech Early College High School
6026 Paris Ave.
District B (Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell)
Wednesday, Aug. 28
KIPP Central City Academy
2514 Third St.