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Prospect Pool’s future still murky

Central Blair Recreation and Park Commissioner Ed Frontino brought up the idea of an indoor sports complex at Strawberry Hills this week as an alternative recreation site to the commission’s problematic Prospect Pool — but commissioners aren’t ready to pull the plug on the public pool.

“I know everybody has a sweet spot for Prospect Pool, but it isn’t what it used to be,” said Frontino, noting issues with leakage, the behavior of young patrons, staffing and a short operational period.

“I’m one of the ones with a soft spot,” said Commissioner Dave Francis. “Inner city kids have to do something.”

Frontino’s sports complex idea is good, but Prospect, a long-time community “staple,” is important for “mental stability” of the youth in Altoona, Francis said.

Commissioner Phil Riccio agreed.

The behavior of some youngsters who patronize the pool has been unacceptable, but it’s also probably fixable, judging from the correction the school district made with stricter security when there were similar problems at a couple of early football games last season, said Riccio, the athletic director for the Altoona Area School District.

The pool is a significant benefit for kids who live within walking distance on that hill, Riccio said.

As a parent, and as a school official, it’s his responsibility to figure out how to solve the problem, rather than to surrender to it, he said.

“I can’t live in fear that something is going to happen,” he said. “What can we do to still provide this opportunity?”

Maybe more intensive community policing would help, said Commissioner Matt Pacifico, the city mayor.

Police visits were helpful last year, commission staffers said.

There should be more officers available this year, because council has authorized additional hiring in the police department, Pacifico said.

And yet the pool is bound to continue to be “a hangout for troublemakers,” Frontino said.

Middle school patrons last year bullied others physically and emotionally, and staffers had to remove 50 to 60, including 10 to 15 repeat offenders, officials reported at the commission’s meeting in November.

Police were called numerous times, they said.

Staffers felt uncomfortable working there and also leaving after work, they said.

One female employee was jumped on the way home, a staffer said this week.

“I don’t want to get up one morning and read in the paper that a hotheaded kid got a baseball bat” and attacked someone who told him to leave — or stabbed or shot that staffer, Frontino said.

Moreover, fixing the pool for the long-term is likely to cost millions, he said, adding that parking in that neighborhood is “horrible.”

The city’s Public Works director is meeting with a pool expert to discuss what may need to be done to rehabilitate the facility, although a definitive answer on the leakage will need to wait until spring, when digging can occur, said commission Executive Director Mike Hofer.

Last summer, the pool was losing a foot of water a day, approximately 69,000 gallons, according to information provided by Hofer at a previous meeting.

The leakage has continued, which indicates that the water is running out from the pool itself, in a spot that is likely difficult to access, according to Frontino.

A major rehab would not only be needed to fix that leakage, but it would also be needed to make the facility compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Hofer said.

A decision will be needed by March — if only on what to do in the short term, he said.

That is, to “try to run it with a Band-Aid,” he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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