Community rallies in support of local swimming pool

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Children, parents and senior citizens turned out to the Willard Swim Center on Sunday afternoon to advocate for reopening the local pool.

Elementary school students waved signs and chanted about the pool as cars honked on the street in support during the event, which approximately 150 people attended throughout the day. The rally was organized by Maggie Knutson — a fifth-grade teacher at John Muir Elementary School in South Berkeley — who wanted to teach her class about local politics.

“My students and I organized the event to bring attention to the fact that Willard Pool currently fills up to the top with dirt and plants are growing out of it,” Knutson said. “It was closed in 2010 because it was old and leaking and there wasn’t enough money at the time to reopen the pool … It’s a growing blight on Telegraph Avenue.”

The city will consider putting a number of bond measures on its November ballot, which could raise money to reopen the city’s warm water pools and repair Berkeley pools such as Willard. The bond measure regarding the warm water pools will be addressed at Tuesday’s Berkeley City Council meeting.

Though there are no items regarding Willard Pool on the council agenda, Knutson and her class plan to attend and speak about it during the public comment section.

“The kids want a place to swim … It’s really an accessibility issue,” Knutson said.

Knutson’s class has also written essays and are circulating a petition on they plan to present at the meeting.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington also stopped by the rally briefly to show his support for the reopening of the pool.

“I think this is exciting to have such enthusiasm and young people getting involved in local politics probably for the first time in their lives for a basic service — swimming pools,” Worthington said.

Worthington said that his favorite chant that he heard from the students was, “It’s crazy, it’s wack, we want our pools back.”

Odessa Newman, one of the fifth-graders in Knutson’s class, said she just wants a place to swim this fall when she starts middle school.

“I’m going to Willard Middle School next year, and I want the (pool) for P.E.,” said Odessa Newman. “Some of the local pools have restricted hours and this pool would be accessible to all people in South Berkeley.”

Anjuli Sastry is an assistant news editor.