For Pris Abell, one of her favorite times of year is opening day of the Metropolis City Pool.
But this year, that opening day — which is noon Friday — has an extra-special meaning as the pool is opening for the first time since the summer of 2019, and the new Superman-themed splash pad will mark its grand opening.
“We are so ready for this. We are so excited,” said Abell, the City of Metropolis Parks & Recreation director. “Hopefully everything goes smoothly. I want to get back to normal. That’s our goal.”
The city received a $231,000 matching grant in the winter of 2019 to sandblast and resurface the pool and to construct the splash pad.
“That whole process has taken so long,” Abell said. “It was held up nearly a year by the state with permitting. We couldn’t break ground until those guidelines were ironed out. Once we broke ground, COVID hit, and we couldn’t get a lot of parts and equipment we needed.”
The pad features water buckets, water bazookas, a small water slide, sprinklers in the forms of the Superman shield and a “Welcome to Metropolis” arch and kryptonite rocks, which had to be re-ordered. In addition, water comes out of the ground, “so there’s a lot of water coming from everywhere,” Abell said.
The pieces, which will be lit up during the pool’s operating hours, were made by Rain Drop Products, a sprayground design company based in Ashland, Ohio.
“Because it’s Superman themed, everything was made specifically for this splash pad,” Abell said. “Rain Drop had never made these before; they were so excited to do this project.”
Abell and her lifeguards also were excited to see the equipment in action.
“It was so neat to see the water shooting out, the buckets filling up and dumping out. It’s going to be fun. The kids are going to love it,” Abell said, her face lighting up. “It took longer, but it’s worth it; given this being the Home of Superman, it’s appropriate.”
Abell noted there will be two lifeguards stationed daily at the splash pad. “We’ve got a walkie-talkie system so they can communicate with us up here if something happens,” she said.
Abell explained the splash pad is geared toward smaller children, non-swimmers and children with special needs and there is occupancy limit; however, “at the beginning, we’ll allow everybody to go down there. We want everybody to enjoy it a little bit. Once the newness has worn off some, we’ll limit it. It will be available to those who rent the pool for evening parties,” she said. “It’s exciting. I think everybody’s excited to see it.”
The splash pad and the now 6-year-old bathhouse are both ADA compliant.
In addition to the splash pad “a lot of basic work” has been done at the pool, including welding the diving board, new gutter installation and resurfacing and painting of the 57-year-old pool, which “looks beautiful right now. It’s been time and money well spent,” Abell said.
But being closed for almost two years took its toll on some equipment in the bathhouse.
“After having to take last year off, this place has been a filthy mess,” Abell said. “We’ve cleaned and cleaned and cleaned and found out a lot of things don’t work” including the freezer, refrigerator, ice machine and soft drink machine.
But all of those bumps in the road have been attended to, and Abell, her assistant manager and her 22 lifeguards are ready to get down to business on Friday — weather permitting.
The pool will be open from noon until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. The regular pool programs are scheduled for the season with swimming lessons at 9:30 a.m. the week of June 21; water aerobics starting on June 14 at 5:30 p.m.; parties can be reserved starting June 14 for the evenings. The lap swim schedule is being organized. The pool will close Aug. 15 with its traditional Last Day Blast event.
The pool’s opening takes place the same day as Phase 5 of the Restore Illinois plan, which marks a full reopening of all businesses and activities in the state. Due to that, Abell said she has not been informed by the state of any COVID-related guidelines for the pool.
“We already use a lot of bleach and chlorine. We’ve got a lot of antibacterial cleaning supplies this year. The lifeguards have very specific ‘no sharing of anything between each other’ guidelines. That’s the best way we can stay safe,” she said.
But she knows her lifeguards will do their best to maintain a safe environment for swimmers.
“I’ve got the best group of kids. They love working here. They are invested in these kids,” Abell said. “I consider the city pool to be a mission; we really do make a difference.”
Abell received 32 applications for this year’s lifeguard positions.
“I had some incredible applications this year. The kids have really dedicated themselves. They were so involved — mission work, homeschooling, after school program, tutoring, classes, second jobs — it was really impressive,” she continued. “I’ve got some hard workers. I love that. To me, that shows initiative and that you’re getting a hard worker. There are some parents out there doing an incredible job seeing to it that these kids are going down the right path. They are all about service. It’s amazing.”
The 2021 season also brings a new partnership to the Metropolis City Pool. In April, police chief Harry Masse informed the Metropolis City Council the department has partnered with Chill-O’s to provide a free treat to two swimmers daily. The names will be drawn randomly from each day’s sign-up sheet. The program is being funded through the department’s charity fund, called SAFE.
“I was thrilled to hear about it,” Abell said of the program. “I’m always happy to partner with other groups that want to help our kids.”