How to replace an aging community swimming pool

Lots of small towns are facing major issues with their swimming pools. Should they invest the funds in more repairs? Should they build a whole new pool or would a splash pad or something else be a better choice? Where should it be?

A lot has changed since the old pools were built. People’s families are different, lives and recreation are different, and population has shifted, maybe even living in different locations.

A concrete outline in a park lawn shows the location of a former swimming pool.
Many small town pools have already been filled in or closed. Things have changed a lot since this little pool was first built in a park in Beaver, Oklahoma. Photo by Becky McCray.

The Old Way

You know what the usual process looks like. The city council, plus maybe some expert consultants, a presentation at city hall, some public input. A limited range of choices, probably drawn up by an out-of-town engineering firm.

The Idea Friendly Way

Instead, why not get a group of families together at the pool location. Ask them each to bring their plastic kiddie wading pools. Then while the kids are playing in the pools, you can start conversations with the adults about ideas for the pool in a nonthreatening environment.

Kids can splash in their little pools while adults build connections and come up with creative ways to provide a safe, fun and wet place to play in the future. Photo by my mom 🙂 circa 1971

Mike Larson and some other people in Sugar Creek, Missouri, told Deb that they want to have a city pool again. It will be a long and expensive project.

First, they want to find out how much interest there is before they start. They’re going to host a “day at the pool”, where the old pool used to be. They’ll mark the outline of the old pool on the ground with paint or string or something.

They’re inviting everyone in town, all the current residents, former residents and all the people with memories of the pool to bring little wading pools or beach chairs or anything like that. They’ll provide the water to fill the wading pools, and everyone will have a great time. They’ll talk about their big idea, building connections and finding resources they need. 

Idea Friendly principles at work

This simple gathering incorporates all three parts of the Idea Friendly Method. You’re involving more people (Gathering Your Crowd), letting people talk to each other to come up with ideas and network your way to the resources you need (Building Connections), and you’ve given everyone a small but meaningful way to participate (Take Small Steps.)  

In our Idea Friendly Next Steps video, we share success principles for Idea Friendly projects. This idea of kiddie pools at the pool site incorporates all five of them.

First, get out of the meeting room.

The location affects the conversation. Sitting in the council chambers or a meeting room, you’re too far removed from the action. What is the real goal? It’s about the experience we want our children to have. In the meeting room, other goals like fiscal responsibility, liability or feeling wronged can dominate the discussion.

Second, be conspicuous doing your thing in public.

Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd. Make people curious. Get people to stop and ask what the heck you think you’re doing. Then you have a chance to share a bit about your ideas for the pool, and the small but meaningful way they could be part of it right now. 

When you involve more people, you get more ideas and more innovative thinking.

Third, do more cheap tests that at least approximate your idea. 

Gathering people at the location of the pool with kids playing nearby is a cheap way to do something at least sort of like replacing the pool.  

It’s a good way to find out how many people are interested enough to get involved, as well as judge whether this is the right location.

Fourth, take small steps from there. 

Don’t stop with one kiddie pool play date. Hold several. Keep the discussions going. Invite people who missed the first one.

Out of those initial conversations, you’ll probably generate several different options. Test them all, or at least all of them that people are excited enough to take action on.

Maybe test the splash pad idea by setting up a pop-up splash pad in a park. (All that takes is a garden hose with holes punched in it.)

You could test the idea of building a whole new pool by holding a picnic to have a conversation about different plans or holding a fundraiser to see how well it’s received.

Fifth, build the community first. 

Think of the group of kids and families who use the pool now as a community. The new pool or water play place will need a community, too. Before you build the new structure, build the new community. That’s what these kiddie pool play dates are doing.

Put Idea Friendly to work in your community.

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Hello Becky, Our community is small (2000) and really wants a new pool. We have alot of families. Our park board is not on board. A grassroots group has raised about $75,000. We have some grant ideas but do you have any grant sources? I think we’ll build the pool – just not sure about financing.

Hi Laurie, I’m going to share two great sources of grant information in the US at the end of this comment. Before that, I want to talk about getting from the grassroots families to the officials and boards. You’ll need them if you want to put this pool on park grounds.

It’s never easy to convince someone in an official position to change their minds or accept a big responsibility. It’s a lot easier to entice them to join what looks like a winning movement. You’ve started with $75,000, and that’s an awesome start. Think about ways you can Build Connections, especially in nonthreatening ways outside of meeting rooms. Look for small steps you can take that they can take with you, without making them accept a huge financial commitment.

  • Can they host pop-up splash pads in the parks?
  • Can they allow temporary pool setups?
  • Will they permit kiddie pool play days?

I know it sounds trivial, but it’s part of enticing them to work with you in a fun and acceptable way.

OK, finally, here is where I would look for grants. These two email newsletters have tons of US-specific grant announcements, and they’re both targeted to rural communities.

  1. Rural eNews from Rural LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) is a skimmable mega list of new publications, reports, conferences, events, funding opportunities and more relevant to rural places.
  2. Innovation Matters is another skimmable listing of funding opportunities, events and resources in rural America from USDA’s Rural Development Innovation Center.

Good luck and keep us posted!