By IN JERUSALEM STAFF
The future of the capital's only Olympic-size pool, the Jerusalem Pool on Emek Refaim, is still uncertain despite the national and local media interest generated by the struggle of members to keep it operating in the face of attempts by the owners to turn the land into a parking lot or to construct luxury apartments on the site.
The pool is closing on December 31 to carry out mechanical repairs demanded by the Health Ministry and is planning to reopen for the summer season in April 2010. However, the owners have announced they will not use this period to carry out any other renovations, such as upgrading the rundown changing rooms and showers. The Jerusalem Pool Action Committee believes this is a sign that the owners, Moshav Shoresh and the Ela Brothers, intend to operate the pool only in the summer, when it is more profitable, and use this precedent to close over the future winter seasons, driving away year-round members until they can convince the municipality that the pool no longer serves a function. When the owners purchased the pool and surrounding land in the 1980s, they agreed to keep it open as an affordable public facility, although there is a dispute over whether they are obliged to operate year-round.
The Jerusalem Pool Action Committee, which spontaneously formed to fight the closure plans when they first became known a few months ago, is suggesting that members freeze their membership rather than transfer it - as the management is suggesting - to the pool in Kiryat Hayovel or the one in Beit Hanoar Ha'ivri. The transfer of membership, in effect, means that the Jerusalem Pool will no longer have any contractual obligations to those swimmers; and the swimmers, many of whom have been frequenting the pool for more than a decade, will not be able to request services. It is also expected that the price will rise when the pool reopens, despite the fact that no improvements are being made to the site.
The committee and the lawyer it hired met on Monday, December 21, with the chief municipal legal adviser Yossi Havilio and other city officials, including Deputy Mayor Pepe Alalo. Havilio reportedly accepted the analysis of the pool members that the actions of the pool owners over the last few weeks indicate a lack of sincerity and raise suspicions that they do not intend to continue to operate the pool for long. He promised to send a letter to the owners demanding that they complete the renovations required by the Health Ministry in the shortest possible time, and no later than April 1, 2010, and stressing that according to his earlier understanding with them, they are required to leave as is all the pool's facilities, including its current length and the gym. He also promised to warn them that they are not allowed to close the pool next winter and to ask them to submit the renovation plans to the City Engineer's office for study.
"We remain optimistic that the pool will remain a central south Jerusalem facility. All the local forces, including the [Ginot Ha'ir] neighborhood administration and the Emek Refa'im merchants' association, want the pool to stay," said committee founder Haim Watzman after the meeting. "We're pleased by the chief counsel's strong position but are disappointed that some of the city's key political leaders, in particular Deputy Mayor Kahalon and Mayor Barkat, have not taken concrete action to resolve the issues that threaten the pool's continued operation."
The committee (firstname.lastname@example.org) is continuing to post news of its fight on Facebook, as well as in the more traditional manner: The owners of the Aroma cafe next door to the pool have expressed support and are allowing the committee to post updates on their bulletin board. A large demonstration of support is planned on the last night before the closure. The initial plans call for swimmers and supporters to gather at 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 31 at the entrance to the pool and then go in for a final swim before what the committee hopes is the temporary closure.
The pool first opened in the late 1950s, when it was known as Breichat Hameriva, The Pool of Conflict, because of the ultra-Orthodox protests at the site. Over the years, instead of conflict the pool has become known as an oasis of tolerance, serving religious, non-religious, Jews, Christians and Muslims. Among its most frequent users are the elderly and the disabled, many of whom have expressed dismay at the even temporary closure, noting that the alternative pools suggested for membership transfer are not easily accessible by public transportation for residents of the German Colony, Katamon and the Katamonim and are not adapted to the needs of the physically disabled.
Management is remaining tight-lipped about its future plans and would only reiterate that it will reopen in April and hopes to resolve the issue through dialogue.
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