Galesburg City Council decides to extend life of Hawthorne Pool

Samuel Lisec
Galesburg Register-Mail
Hawthorne Pool in Galesburg.

GALESBURG — Members of Galesburg City Council directed the city to close Hawthorne Pool in May and begin the first year of renovations, during a Monday, March 28, work session. 

The direction did not come after an official vote, but members of city council expressed approval of keeping the public pool from being shut down permanently. City Manager Todd Thompson presented that an estimated $3.13 million will be required to repair the aged facility over the next five years in order to make it safe for public use.

Third Ward City Council Member Kevin Wallace was absent from Monday’s meeting. 

Thompson said after the session that the council will have to vote on the engineering contract and bid in future sessions, but based on the members’ input, the city will move forward this year with repairs to the Hawthorne Pool’s roof and columns. 

Thompson outlined that these specific repairs will cost an estimated $660,450 and be funded by money the city has received from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Tony Oligney-Estill estimated that if the engineering is ready in May, the pool should be able to reopen in November or December, 2022. 

The mayor, council and city administrators also discussed how the raise in minimum wage and pursuing more programming could increase the pool’s yearly operating costs by $50,000, the prospect of members of the community contributing to raise small portions of the cost of renovations, partnering to receive ARPA funds from the Knox County Board and the likelihood of the city obtaining a grant to cover up to half of the $3.13 million needed. 

Thompson affirmed that grants the city has obtained in the past first took multiple years of applications and that if one is obtained for the pool, it is very unlikely the city could obtain another grant for other capital projects the city is looking at such as the activity center. 

Similarly, funds the city invests into the pool from ARPA or its Utility Tax Fund will not be able to be spent elsewhere. 

“I don't want to confuse anybody to think we have all this money sitting here and it's available as an easy fix,” Thompson said. “Because these dollars you can spend them here, you don't have them for a community center, you don't have them for road projects, you don't have them for parks and recreation projects.”

First Ward City Council Member Bradley Hix said he is not against trying to save the pool but framed the decision alongside the council’s other ongoing debate on whether to invest in turning the Churchill Jr. High School building into an activity center. 

Hix also mentioned the prospect of partnering with the YMCA to provide the Galesburg community more pool space.

“I think we have to look at this big picture,” Hix said. “I think Hawthorne pool is a valuable asset to the community, I don't dispute that, but then we got a very slim majority in this council who thinks Churchill is a brilliant idea which I disagree with.” 

“So if we do this, we're cutting into Churchill and I hope you're smart enough to realize that.”

Fifth Ward City Council Member Jaclyn Smith-Esters said she supports the repair plan for Hawthorne in addition to the activity center.

“I'm for the five year plan but I think that our citizens that are backing this can add to the pot and we can get it done faster,” Smith-Esters said. “And of course 100 percent behind Churchill, as you all know.” 

During the session’s public comments section, Joe Miller said it would be short sighted for the city not to invest in a facility where children and seniors can be active.

“For a new family, what does Galesburg have to offer? There's nothing new, there's nothing that 'Wow's you,' there's nothing that says 'Ooh I want to do that,' when it comes to activities,” Miller said. “When I bring my kids back to visit my family, my kids make sure to schedule time and go to Hawthorne Pool to swim.”

Brother Shabazz, a substitute teacher in the district, said that he is in favor of the Hawthorne Pool but that the council needs to exercise more urgency in supporting people on the city’s south side who need a community center and do not have the same resources as those on the north side. 

“There's not really much consideration for the needs of the most vulnerable citizens, and those are of the poor and black and brown citizens of Galesburg who don't really have a voice,” Shabazz said. “I frankly don't think it's really fair to do another project on the north side. I think there has to be something closer to the south side where the black and brown citizens of Galesburg live.”

Fourth Ward City Council Member Dwight White said that he supports keeping Hawthorne Pool open but that he would also like to see something closer to the people in his ward and on the south side of Galesburg who cannot afford to drive to places like the YMCA.

“I would love to see Hawthorne Pool stay open, I would love to see a place for our youth too, in a community center,” White said. “I'll say it again, I've always said it, I've been in the fourth ward all my life, there's nothing out there and everything I got to do is far to the north.” 

After the session, Rhonda Brady, a member of the local organization Save Hawthorne Pool, said that she was pleased with the direction the council gave to the city.

"I am pleased that they are not closing the pool permanently. That's what I thought needed to happen, the repair of the pool is long overdue."