Bridge over troubled waters

June 14, 1995

There's no assurance that a community swimming pool in Havre de Grace would have prevented the drowning of 14-year-old Michael Pangburn. Kids will sometimes choose the river or pond or quarry to take a swim with their friends, despite parental warnings or the option of a supervised pool. The allure of a warm spring day is too often irresistible to youngsters anxious to test the seemingly unthreatening waters.

A rope swing hung from the piling of the Hatem Memorial Bridge in the Susquehanna River, beckoning young Pangburn and a buddy to play in the 6-foot-deep waters two weeks ago. The Havre de Grace Middle School eighth-grader disappeared from sight and drowned about 100 yards offshore near North Park, presumably trapped by underwater debris or deep mud of the river bottom.

His death sent a shock wave through the school and the community. Crisis counselors went to the school to console hundreds of his classmates. A candlelight vigil was held by family and friends at the school, to mourn the popular youngster and to call for building a swimming pool and recreation center in Havre de Grace. Petitions were circulated supporting such a facility, a movement that some say had started before the Pangburn drowning.

The familiar words of regret "If only . . ." were often heard, adding to the urgency of the appeal for a community pool to safely serve recreation needs. Adults and schoolchildren blamed themselves for not pushing harder, sooner for the facility.

Building and maintaining a city pool is an ambitious and expensive project, that will require ongoing financial support from the municipal budget and a continuing commitment for substantial use by residents.

It's not a one-time cost, a quick fix for the community's psyche. One need only look at the experience of Joppatowne, where the community pool closed three years ago because of finances, was re-opened by an under-capitalized community group and this year was turned over in deep debt to a private operator.

If there is broad community support for the pool, however, then city officials should move to consider the project. Its benefit to Havre de Grace residents could be substantial, as much as another waterfront tourism scheme. We hope the penny-pinching mentality of municipal leadership won't automatically block serious analysis of this earnest proposal. Even as we hope that another tragedy in the river can be avoided this long hot summer.

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