By Debby Woodin
Today is the last chance to make a splash in the existing Schifferdecker Park pool.
It will close for the season at 6 p.m. and is scheduled this fall to be demolished to make way for a new $5.8 million aquatic center if the Joplin City Council moves forward with plans for it on Monday.
“I compare it to the coming down of the old St. John’s hospital,” said Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean. “It has stood its ground. It has served its purpose. It has become a landmark and people have their memories of it. But now it is making way for the growth of Joplin.
“We’re expanding Joplin from what we have known it as, and the new aquatic center is going to allow a lot more amenities for families to come and enjoy,” she said.
Proposed plans for the new aquatic center are to be shown to the council at its informal meeting on Monday, when parks director Chris Cotten will ask for authorization to proceed with requesting bids for tearing out the pool and building the new one. The plans are based on public input sessions held earlier this year.
If the OK comes, work will proceed with demolition later this year and construction aimed at having the new pool ready for next year’s swim season.
“It’s going to be a very nice facility,” Cotten said of the proposed plan. “I can tell you the new project will have a lazy river. We’re intending to put in four water slides, one a family slide. It will have a low dive and high dive and it will have a 50-meter competition combined with a 25-yard competition pool,” Cotten said.
“We do have some other things we would like to do depending on the construction costs.”
Jennifer Martucci, president of the Joplin Swim Team, said it’s a bittersweet feeling.
“The city has been gracious enough to leave it open for our swim team and we appreciate that,” she said.
“It’s a little bit sad to see it go, because we’ve been there so long but we’re really excited about the new pool.”
There were 150 kids involved in this year’s swim team. They gave up having an annual swim meet this year so they could invite visitors to the new one next year.
Martucci said she thinks the proposed plan is a good one. “It’s a great choice as far as where to put it. Accessibility is going to be good,” she said.
Cotten said that it seems early in the season to close a pool but that some lifeguards are preparing to return to college and there are not enough to staff all three pools for the rest of the month.
Joplin investments advisor Kevin Russell was one of those college student lifeguards in 1987.
“We had a big, platform high dive then and a low drive. It was a great diving area,” he said. “It was jampacked everyday,” he said of the pool.
Joplin resident Donna Ashford has appreciated Schifferdecker’s wading pool because it is the only pool where her disabled granddaughter, who has only one leg, could safely play and swim.
“She could play in the kiddie pool and hop all the way or swim across all of it. The other pools are slanted and by the time she gets in the deep water, she has nothing to stabilize herself. So I love Schifferdecker Pool, the kiddie pool, just because of it being able to take care of the disabled children and the handicapped.”
Cotten said plans for the new pool adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act. One provision for the disabled is a ramp with a guardrail to provide entry, he said.
Old Swimming Hole
Generations of Joplin residents have had a pool to enjoy at Schifferdecker Park, which is named for the donor of the park land — early day businessman Charles Schifferdecker.
“I do think there have been water features in the park at least 100 years,” said Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex, which is next to the pool. “I think even possibly it’s a little abstract where the locations of all the pools were. They could have been in slightly different locations than the one now.”
Schifferdecker bought a 160-acre dairy farm and shortly after the turn of the last century leased 10 acres of it to partners of the Joplin and Pittsburg Electric Railway Co., who built the Schifferdecker Electric Park there along with the first pool, called the ‘old swimming hole,” in 1909.
The park included a skating rink, a boating lagoon, a beer garden, elaborate gates and a 125-foot tower all lined with electric lights — 40,000 bulbs in all. At the parks’ grand opening on June 10, 1909, 20 railroad cars of people — 12,000 in all — were reported to have come to what the Joplin Globe described then as the “Coney Island of the Missouri-Kansas mining district.”
It was not long before the park’s lighted appeal faded. Workaday miners could not afford both the trolley fee and admission to the Electric Park and by 1912, the “Coney Island” part of the park closed. Schifferdecker took the land back and deeded 40 acres to the city, requiring that it be operated perpetually as a free public park.
In order to use the park in a cost-effective manner, the city tore down the amusement rides and light tower and invested in fixing up the pool, a dance hall, playground equipment and a baseball diamond.
In 1932 a new pool was built, which was replaced with the existing pool in 1976.
“It was one of the only pools we had in town of any size. The rest were smaller,” said Councilman Bill Scearce, who at the time was the city’s parks and recreation director. “It was built as a competitive swimming pool. At the time, 50-meter swimming pools were in vogue and it was a 50-meter pool.”
The effort to build the existing pool hit a bump, Scearce remembers.
“The interesting thing about the pool is it has different depths. That’s because we hit chert,” when excavating, “and we raised the level of the diving area, which was unusual but we managed to do it,” to compensate, Scearce said.
Scearce is eager to see the final plans as is the mayor.
“It’s going to be a big win for Joplin,” to build the new aquatic center, Colbert-Kean said. “We want to make it the best we can for our citizens,” who have supported a quarter-cent parks and stormwater tax for parks projects like the aquatic center.
As for seeing the existing pool close today, “It’s a bittersweet goodbye and an exciting hello,” to a new one, the mayor said.
The existing Schifferdecker Pool is a three-section pool for diving, swimming and wading. It cost $440,000 to build with nearly half of the money coming from Community Development Block Grant funds, according to Globe records. It opened Aug. 19, 1976, with it’s first full season of operation in 1977.
It began leaking several years ago and the cost for repair led city officials to the conclusion that it should be replaced rather than repaired.
Joplin residents were invited to an open house on Feb. 22 to leave suggestions for the type of aquatic center they wanted and the pool features. Most said they were there to support construction of a competition-style pool.
At that session, consultant Jeff Bartley of Water’s Edge, an aquatics firm in Lenexa, Kan., said that if the current pool site at Schifferdecker Park were used for the new pool, it could save about $500,000. That savings comes from using existing plumbing, sewer lines and electrical hookups and updating the bathhouse instead of building a new one.
Though the Joplin Athletic Complex was considered as a possible site, Bartley said that installing utilities for a pool there would be a large expense.
A recommendation to build a $5.8 million aquatics center came from public input received by a task force of local residents who devised a projects list based on revenue generated by a 10-year quarter-cent sales tax voters renewed to start in 2012.
Joplin debated building a $4 million water park in Schifferdecker Park in 1999. That plan would have extended the pool’s water features across the north section of the park. Opponents of the plan led by parks advocate Tony Kassab, conducted a petition drive seeking a public vote, which defeated the proposal.
The aquatic center plan proposed for the site this time contains some of the same features, such as a lazy river and slides, but on a smaller scale so that it does not use up so much of the park’s northern green space.