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Big donation will let all Philadelphia pools open

With a six-figure donation from First Niagara Bank, the city has reached its goal of opening all of its pools this summer.

With a six-figure donation from First Niagara Bank, the city has reached its goal of opening all of its pools this summer.

Officials of First Niagara, which is based in Upstate New York and recently opened branches in the Philadelphia region, presented the city with a $400,000 check Thursday at a confetti-filled news conference at Sacks Pool in the 400 block of Washington Avenue in South Philadelphia.

It was the largest donation the city had received toward its Splash and Summer Fund, a fund-raising campaign launched last year to keep more pools open.

"Keeping our swimming pools open during the summer is important to maintaining a strong sense of community in which friends and neighbors can connect," Mayor Nutter said. "First Niagara Bank's generosity . . . is another great example of the positive impact that public and private partnerships have on providing safe and enjoyable activities for all of our residents."

In addition to supplying a haven from the heat and a form of exercise for youths, city pools produce about 800 seasonal jobs.

Last summer, due to a budget gap, the city closed 27 of its 72 outdoor pools, leaving residents in some neighborhoods to complain why some pools were allowed to open while others remained shut.

This summer, the city needed $600,000 to open every pool, the amount of the shortfall in the aquatics department's $1.7 million budget. Many neighborhood groups started fund-raising to help reach that goal.

Through community-organized efforts such as a three-on-three men's basketball tournament, a talent show, and cow-chip bingo, plus donations from big companies, the city was halfway - $300,000 - toward its target. First Niagara put the city over the top.

"When the bank was made aware of the budget realities facing the city's pool initiative, we jumped at the chance" to help, said John R. Koelmel, First Niagara's president and chief executive officer.

The additional money will be carried over to next year's pool budget, Parks and Recreation Department spokesman Alain Joinville said.

Other private donations include $37,000 from the Lombard Swim Club, $34,000 from Shire Pharmaceuticals, $34,000 from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, $30,000 from TD Bank, $12,000 from Modell's Sporting Goods, and $10,000 from Temple University.

First Niagara will also give $250,000 in grants so that 35 YMCA branches across eastern Pennsylvania - the bank's largest regional market - can offer free swimming lessons.

City pools are scheduled to begin opening June 18.