'Hometown effort' reopens Joppatowne swim club

July 04, 1993|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

A few months back, the Joppatowne swim club seemed an abandoned place. Tiles hung loose in the empty pool. Weeds stood 2 feet high, providing a sanctuary for water fowl. Wires and cobwebs dangled from the greasy kitchen ceiling, and boards covered windows and entrances.

But today -- after volunteers put in hundreds of hours of work and a community group agreed to purchase the pool for $350,000 -- the clear blue water beckons. Manicured lawns invite sunbathers to spread a blanket and soak up the rays, and the kitchen's ready for the lunch crowd.

The Joppatowne Swim and Tennis Club, a focal point of the community for almost 30 years, closed its doors at the end of the 1991 season, its owner citing rising maintenance costs and a decline in membership.

Closed last summer, the club fell into disrepair, and many residents wondered if it would ever reopen.

But residents relied on determination, lots of elbow grease and what Christopher Boardman, the leader of a group formed to save the pool, calls a "series of small miracles" to reopen the club.

In about two weeks, the group, Joppatowne Community Center Inc., will settle on the club's purchase for $350,000 from owner Joseph S. Schlee, who is financing the mortgage. The group is to pay $25,000 each of the next five years, then the balance, under an agreement with Mr. Schlee.

The community group, which has already raised $25,000 for the first mortgage payment, and money toward renovations and running the pool, hopes to get a commercial bank loan in five years to pay Mr. Schlee the balance.

At least $60,000 total is needed annually to run the pool. Should the group default on its financial obligations, ownership of the property will revert to Mr. Schlee, and the group has agreed not to oppose rezoning the property for apartments.

After some residents balked at a proposal last fall to create a new tax to save the club, the group instead turned to private donations and fund-raisers such as bake sales and raffles.

Members of the group, who have hired American Pool Management of Owings Mills to operate the pool, also saved a good bit of money by doing much of the repair work themselves and getting donations from businesses.

Randy Potochney, a marble mason who learned how to swim at the pool while growing up across the street, not only labored long hours repairing broken and loose tile, but also recruited a former business partner to do much of the work.

David Brust, a metal worker, showed up daily to repair the plumbing. The Oak Avenue Rubble Fill donated money and removed much of the rubble. Harford Sanitation left a Dumpster that would be filled with broken concrete loaded by equipment ** on loan from the Gunpowder Marina.

Others landscaped the property with flowers and shrubs donated by businesses and hooked up telephone lines or donated new tile for the kitchen.

"We retiled, repainted, refloored, changed the plumbing and valves -- the list is endless, a real hometown effort," said Mr. Boardman, whose group incorporated in late 1991. "We are still looking for donations for a new roof. Actually, a barn-raising would be nice."

Kathy Uhler-Hammond, the vice president of the community group, admits that she had her doubts about whether the pool would reopen. "It was really touch-and-go," she said. "We didn't know if we could raise the money to purchase the property," she said.

For a time, she worried that apartments would replace the pool after the nearby Harborside Apartments complex took an option last year to buy the land, though the 4.5-acre tract is not zoned for apartments.

"The pool was always so inviting, I just couldn't see the property be turned into apartments," Ms. Uhler-Hammond said.

But persistence and hard work paid off, she said. "It's the biggest community project I've ever worked on -- a 100 percent volunteer effort by many people."

Laura Weaver, who walks or bikes to the pool daily with her daughter Valerie and son Kevin, said her family missed the pool dearly last summer.

"The loose tiles and crumbling cement are gone, the bathrooms are very clean, trash is picked up and the lifeguards ensure that children behave disciplined," she said.

A shortage of cash kept the community group from buying chairs or lounges, but the Weavers don't mind. Explains 9-year-old Kevin: "I like not having any chairs. It's much funner sitting on the ground."

The community group also hopes to eventually build a picnic pavilion and a community center that would double as a day care center, Mr. Boardman said.

Activities planned for this summer include crab feasts and hot dog nights, and the pool offers swimming and scuba lessons and rents the club for parties.

The community group also is selling raffle tickets for a Jeep Cherokee and plans more fund-raisers to help pay the mortgage and run the pool.

Mr. Boardman said he hopes the newly renovated club attracts more members. About 150 families now belong.

Pool membership fees range from around $150 a season for one person to $295 for a family of five.

The pool is open to everyone in Joppatowne and other communities, and daily passes also are offered.

John Stafford, 12, and his cousin Gregory Rey, 10, might not totally be aware of all the efforts that have gone into reopening their favorite summer spot, but they sure appreciate the result.

"I learned to swim here. I really missed coming here last year," John said.

"We were really bored last summer and are glad the pool is open again," Gregory added. "There's more stuff to do instead of just sitting around playing with toys."

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