Planning on hanging poolside all summer? There are dozens of options for Philadelphians, and they’re free.
With 74 indoor and outdoor pools — 72 in operation this summer — Philly is a national leader when it comes to summer swimming. And the time has arrived to take advantage of the public spots, with pools now opening on a rolling basis.
“I think people in Philadelphia are just really committed to this idea of having city pools open and available," said Parks and Recreation Commissioner Kathryn Ott Lovell.
There are 4.5 pools per every 100,000 residents, according to the most recent data from the Trust for Public Land, fifth in the country behind Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Tucson, Ariz. Parks and Rec recruits 800 seasonal staff members and dedicates about $3.5 million annually to run them.
Ott Lovell is passionate about pools. Pools are where communities can come together, or where kids learn to swim — the department even has free lessons.
“I do really believe that it’s part of what makes our city great and what makes our summers really special," she said. "And for kids in these communities who are never going to make it to Disney World, they’re not going to go to Dorney Park, they’re not going to get down to the Jersey Shore, this is their vacation, this is their escape.”
Each pool is open for about six weeks. The schedules are put together by a team of about six people, headed by aquatics program coordinator Christine Rad. Geography, budget, staffing, and interest level are some of the factors considered.
“Everyone asks, ‘Why can’t you get the list out sooner?’ And it’s like, because it’s literally a changing target," Ott Lovell said. "It’s like a game of Tetris.”
The department tries to make sure there’s a pool open in each neighborhood during the rolling openings and closings, which start around mid-August. While that timeline may feel early to some, Ott Lovell said interest wanes late in the summer. And, many pool staffers are students or teachers who need to get back to school.
The Bridesburg Pool kicked off the summer season on June 17. The Parks and Recreation Department has now released details for the second week of pool openings (the first round of pools opened last week).
Here are pool openings for week two:
Monday, June 24
Tuesday, June 25
Wednesday, June 26
Thursday, June 27
Friday, June 28
Saturday, June 29
Monday, July 1
Tuesday, July 2
Here were the pools that opened in week one:
Monday, June 17
Tuesday, June 18
Wednesday, June 19
Thursday, June 20
Friday, June 21
Saturday, June 22
Charlie McCabe, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Center for City Park Excellence, said the organization started to track splash pads — or interactive water features activated by something like a button or sensor — a few years back. He said their adoption by cities is “definitely a trend.”
In Philly, there are 77 spraygrounds, and a handful of other “spray features,” including the LOVE Park fountain, said Maita Soukup, a Parks & Rec spokesperson.
Said McCabe: “I think what’s happening is you’re seeing the overhauling of existing pools, but the addition of splash pads."
McCabe notes that splash pads provide the ability to cool down without needing a lifeguard. That means the potential for longer seasons, with lower water usage. Ott Lovell said there’s an appetite for spraygrounds in Philadelphia, but pools aren’t going anywhere.
“Philadelphia’s taking a leadership role in prioritizing public space investments as a tool for addressing the many benefits that they can support,” said Owen Franklin, the Trust for Public Land’s Pennsylvania state director.
Some pool-goers might be able to leave the sunscreen at home this season. With help from former Phillies player Mike Schmidt, a handful of pools will see sunscreen dispensers installed there this season, including the Bridesburg, Pleasant Playground, O’Connor, Lee Cultural Center, Lawncrest Recreation Center, Francisville Playground, and the Marian Anderson Recreation Center pools.
“My personal experience with melanoma has propelled me to take a leading role in helping communities be sun smart," Schmidt said in a statement. “With all of the fun outdoor activities that summer brings, it’s important to be aware of sun safety.”
» READ MORE: Philly installing free sunscreen dispensers
The Parks and Rec Department, meanwhile, is holding an inaugural swimwear drive to collect bathing suits and swim accessories, like swim diapers, flip-flops, beach towels, and goggles, throughout the summer.
“We just have this idea, like we collect coats and gloves and mittens in the wintertime," Ott Lovell said. "Why don’t we collect swimsuits in the summertime?”