Gillham Park Pool at 41st St. and Gillham Road in Midtown Kansas City, was built in 1977 as a fountain-wading pool hybrid. Generations of Kansas Citians have swum at the free facility — but this generation could be the last to remember the quirky pool.
Julian Gabriel started coming to the pool 13 years ago as a recent high school graduate, right after moving to the neighborhood from Jefferson City, Missouri.
“This was like really the first pool I ever came to faithfully and playing with my friends in the pool - because I was much younger then,” Gabriel says as she takes a short break from swimming with her daughter Adaya and niece Brylee.
Gabriel has since moved to Independence, and Gillham Park pool is now a 25 minute drive instead of a few minutes walk away. However, the pool has remained a summer staple in her life.
“Now, I get to bring my daughter here, so it’s kind of nice,” Gabriel says. “I used to swim here, and now she swims here.”
Gabriel says as much as she loves the memories, the pool’s environment is a big reason she keeps coming back.
“There’s people of all walks of life that come here and that’s really refreshing, especially being biracial myself and having biracial kids,” Gabriel says. “It’s nice to see that multi-race mingling and stuff.”
On the other side of the pool, Kansas City, Missouri police officer Luke Abouhalkah playfully scolds a group of kids to get out of the bed of pickup.
Abouhalkah works security in an off-duty capacity at Gillham Park Pool, which usually means handing out bottled water, answering kids’ questions, and occasionally playing some catch or football.
He said the diversity and friendliness of the approximately 100-150 people who come every day is noticeable.
“This pool is more or less built and made for the community, and it’s just a good place to hang out. It’s a safe place to hang out,” Abouhalkah says. “We don’t really ever have any issues up here, which is a good thing and a testament to the community ... that, you know, this is a place to have fun, get away from kind of all of the issues and all of the problems that are happening around the country and just kind of come together as a community.”
The only drawback, he says, is the lack of shade and amenities, like water fountains.
“I’d like to see the city invest some money in this pool. And hopefully, we can start some up this winter, this fall, with some plans and some zoning or planning agreements to get the pool some money,” Abouhalkah says.
The Kansas City Missouri Parks Department, though, has some other plans in mind for the area.
Outdoor aquatics administrator Doug Schoeder knows the pool is not in the best of shape.
“The actual structure of the pool is deteriorating; it has several leaks in it that require us to maintain the fill line, to keep it full throughout the day,” Schoeder says. “So, it’s just, you know, pools just don’t last forever, and it’s deteriorating.”
Fixing up the pool would be a huge financial undertaking. Schoeder says it would cost the city around $1.5 million to bring it up to current standards.
“It’s just a big bathtub,” Schoeder said. “We fill it up with water in the morning, we put chemicals in it to monitor the pH balance and the chlorine levels … and we do the whole over again — every day.”
This process of using city water to fill the pool at opening, then sending that same water to the sewer system at closing, is called “fill and drain,” Schoeder says. That also means maintenance can be challenging. For example, to even find leaks, a large amount of the pool would have to be dug up.
With this in mind, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association has started the process to replace the pool with a spraygrounds near the playground in the park. They need to raise a total of $590,000.
So far, they’ve secured a sixth of that goal, primarily from the Public Improvements Advisory Committee, or PIAC. Every summer, PIAC holds public hearings where residents can apply for money from the city’s budget to improve neighborhoods and public spaces.
Schoeder said the project is hoping for more PIAC funding next year and possibly some private donations, so the spraygrounds can be functional by next summer.
Vice President of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association Jenna Munoz said the completion of the project will emphasize the neighborhoods’ visions for the public space.
“It just allows us a lot of room to put in ideas that we as a neighborhood really like,” Munoz says. “For example, one of the key things we’re going to have in our sprayground is a water table, and inside the watertable is going to be a relief of Gillham Park. And so they’re going to have little fountains — one where the sprayground is going to be and one where our memorial fountain is."
The closing of the pool and opening of the spraypark is a little bittersweet, though, for lifelong patrons like Julian Gabriel.
She said although a new facility could be nice, it won’t be the same.
“I am going to miss it,” Gabriel says. “We have a lot of sprayparks already. It’s kind of nice to have a pool pool.”
Despite rumors of closing, Gillham Park Pool did stay open this summer. And for Candice Harris, who was visiting the pool for the first time with her four children, that’s good enough.
“You know, we save back, you know, our money,” Harris says. “We don’t have to pay for swimming, we can pay for school supplies. Yeah, last couple days of summer, let them enjoy.”
The pool closed for the summer last Sunday. The Parks Department will try to keep the pool open until the spraypark is ready. But that timeline will depend on funding for the spraypark and the condition of the pool.
Anna Leach is an intern for KCUR 89.3.