As Eatonville Pool Remains Closed, Residents Say City Rejected Fundraiser – Orlando Sentinel
The laughter of children from a nearby daycare echoes through the air as the water at Eatonville’s community pool shimmers sickly green in the August sun.
Weeds grow through cracks in the concrete surrounding it, and a padlocked chain-link fence keeps swimmers away.
The City of Eatonville government closed the pool in March 2020 as businesses, government offices and schools closed across the country in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. While most of these facilities have long since reopened, Eatonville’s pool remains stagnant.
With residents eager to restore the pool, a grassroots effort was launched to raise the funds needed to clean and repair it. But those involved say new Eatonville Mayor Angie Gardner has voted them down in favor of a plan that could keep the pool closed for another year.
“The community is shaken,” said Leviticus Henderson, who grew up in Eatonville and is now raising his children there. “There is a tumult. … We forget our children. The swimming pool is a must for our children.
Gardner did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Carolyn Atkins, another longtime resident, said her children — now adults in their 40s and 50s — learned to swim in this pool. Her granddaughter, a recent graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, spent her summers there as a lifeguard.
Atkins said the pool helped make the city complete.
“Having everything in your own neighborhood, not having to leave your neighborhood, is kind of like having a city within a city,” Atkins said. “You don’t have to leave the town of Eatonville for anything because everything was there for you — the stores, the schools and the swimming pool. Also, people knew the families of others in the community. It was a way for kids to have fun safely in their own neighborhood, within walking distance.
More importantly, Atkins added, swimming lessons were held in the pool.
While it’s so common for black children to grow up without learning to swim, water safety classes in Eatonville, considered the nation’s oldest incorporated African-American municipality, where about three in four residents are black, could save lives, she said.
If Gardner had approved the fundraiser pitch, the Eatonville kids could have spent July 4 swimming, said Steve Martin, the Maitland man who brought the plan to his office.
Martin has seen the pool deteriorate over the past 18 months he has spent volunteering at the Boy & Girls Club of America in Eatonville. In April, he hired a pool builder to estimate the cost of the repairs and once he got the number – around $63,000 – he started going to see his friends, mostly men and women from around the world. successful businesses in Maitland and Winter Park who had money to donate to the project.
“They all want to donate money,” Martin said. “I can raise $63,000 very easily.”
But there was a catch.
Donors “don’t want to pass that money through Eatonville because of its history,” Martin said, referring to decades of scandals involving voter fraud, withholding public information, conflicting bank statements and theft charges that have plagued several administrations.
Martin wanted to create a separate account specifically for the pool project. He even went so far as to speak directly with Gardner about his plan, but when he mentioned that a condition would be that the funds be managed by a third-party service company, it all fell apart, he said. .
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Martin said no one in Gardner’s office ever explained why his plan wasn’t approved or what he could do to make it happen. He said he’s even started talking with officials in Maitland and Winter Park to float the idea that one of those towns could pick up maintenance costs if it becomes an issue after repairs. However, nothing happened.
Gardner, he says, told him that the city “[has] an audit team now and it’s OK to get that money through,” Martin said. “And that’s where the conversation ends.”
Cathy Williams, Eatonville’s General Manager, said on Monday, “The City of Eatonville is actively working to keep the community pool up and running over the next few months so the kids can enjoy the upcoming summer as it’s is a big part of the community”.
She added that the city is “looking for multiple sources of funding, however, fundraising is not part of those efforts. We are working to get quotes from various pool companies, and as soon as we get those quotes, we will go forward with the establishment and operation of the community swimming pool.
When asked why the city wasn’t interested in Martin’s plan, Williams couldn’t say.
“I’m not sure he spoke directly with Mayor Gardner regarding this funding,” Williams said. “You will have to ask her why she chose not to use this option.”