By Johnnie Grant –
Asheville Park and Recreation Director Roderick Simmons, along with city staff and community members, gathered at the Wesley Grant Southside Center to hear the results of a recent survey and give more input regarding Walton Street Park and the Wesley Grant Southside Center.
During the 2015-16 budget year, Asheville City Council allocated approximately $4.6 million in bond funding to cover $36,000 in consultant fees and to make needed repairs to the city’s three pools—Malvern Hills (the oldest), Walton Street, and Rec Park. The consultant concluded that 80-year-old Walton Street Pool had reached the end of its life cycle, as it is leaking water, faces structural failure, and needs new plumbing and filtration systems, among other improvements. The report estimated cost of repairing Walton Street Pool is $1.3 million, compared to around $1.5 million for a new facility.
The public survey showed overwhelming support for saving the pool, with 58% of respondents saying they use the facility regularly. Neighborhood residents also want to redevelop the entire park with better access routes, an expanded children’s playground, more and better lighting, landscaping, and a greenway connection to AB Tech Community College (directly uphill from Walton Street Park). The on-going objective for the community is to design enhancements for both neighborhood recreational facilities that reflects the needs identified by the community, and to stay within the allotted budget.
Simmons stated that the Walton Street Pool was a priority. However, he said, “The community will have to decide whether the Walton Street Pool is worth renovating or rebuilding at its current site, or whether it should be moved to the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center. The bigger picture is to blend all these projects together when making community improvements, because it’s part of a bigger package.”
Community activists say the Walton Street site, once a segregated park and swimming spot for black people, is a historic site and symbolic of an African American culture that is being gentrified and separated from the city’s fabric. In the past residents of the city and Buncombe County have petitioned the mayor and Asheville City Council to keep the historic site open.
The city, and its Parks and Recreation Department, will continue holding community meetings through the month of March to get feedback for this on-going process.