The temperature was up in the 90s, but the water at the Kelly Miller Recreation Center swimming pool was cool and blue. A film was starting to form on the surface, the concrete pool deck was chipped and the diving boards had been misplaced, but the kids at Kelly Miller were having fun.
The pool was two lifeguards short of the recommended eight. Behind the recreation center rested a stack of new diving boards collecting mildew. Yet, the kids were having fun.
"I like Kelly Miller," said James Moore, 13. "Tell them don't close it. It's close to my house. I like it because my friends come here and I like the people who work here. They look after us and don't let us hurt ourselves."
With that, the tiny Moore - whose bath towel was ample covering for his whole body - made an ego [WORD ILLEGIBLE] attempt at a half gainer that resulted in an embarrassing "belly bust" and laughter from his friends.
"This is fun," Moore said.
And so it was yesterday at a half dozen pools [WORD ILLEGIBLE]
But the question that arose last week about many of the District 43 public swimming pools is whether or not they are safe.
Several pool managers have complained recently [WORD ILLEGIBLE] staff and supply shortages and safety and maintenance problems have made some Washington pools "an accident waiting to happen," as one former manager put it.
Other pool managers side with Dr. William [WORD ILLEGIBLE] director of the D.C. Department of Recreation, who last week countered criticism of the pool operations by saying the accusations were untrue.
And still other pool managers say very little of the controversy has anything to do with the safety of children.
"It sounds kinda political to me. I know its probably some personalities at work and maybe some jobs on the line," speculated Kevin Coates, assistant manager at Kelly Miller, and the only pool official willing to give his name.
Coates's pool is characteristic of the pools other pool managers complain about. But what other managers call "burdening" maintenance problems, Coates calls "routine." When others complain about a shortage of lifeguards, Coates say "six excellent [WORD ILLEGIBLE] better than eight good ones."
"We don't have our diving boards up yet - but what the hell, less to worry about and nobody's crying for them. The concrete is cracking, but having been here as long as I have I figure that all these little problems manage to get squared away with time. The main thing is to make sure the kids have a good time."
Some managers disagree. "A pool should entail more than just opening it up and letting people swim," said one. "People have a right to expect a variety of swimming programs that will be run by the staff."
The reference was made to a reduction in residents attending the city-sponsored Learn to Swim program, which has been postponed and canceled because of maintenance problems.
The pool managers complained that maintenance problems and staff shortages are having a detrimental effect on the estimated 1.3 million youths and adults who use the city's pools. Morale problems among lifeguards and pool manager however, are likely to have more experimental effect.
"When you have to worry about fixing pool equipment yourself because the city is so mixed up it can't send anyone out, and when you have to work overtime without pay," said one lifeguard, "someone is going to suffer. And for God's sake I hope it isn't a kid."
Nevertheless, government officials say, Washington pools have one of the best safety records in the country. Although there have been several near drownings this year, only two persons have been killed in public pools in the past five years, officials say.
"Most of the pools are 30 to 40 years old," said one manager, who agreed with Rumsey that things are not as bad as some say. "It's time for some of them to start breaking down - and we're sure they will be replaced in time. Then all of his will be blown over and forgotten for another 30 to 40 years."
Some pools - such as the one at the Takoma Recreation Center - are affected worse than others. The Learn to Swim Program became a virtual bad joke when residents were not allowed to use the pool because of maintenance problems that took 15 days to fix.
"We had three lessons in two weeks," said one Takoma resident. "When we called the recreation department to complain, they laughed at us."
"When we lived in North Carolina we used to swim in the river," said Cindy Jenkins, 12, while wading at the Kelly Miller pool, "It was fun just like this."