Moores Pool Park may get a state life preserver

Legislators consider $6.2M restoration plan


The iconic, century-old Moores Park swimming pool in Lansing could be restored if a $6.2 million line item in the proposed state budget survives.

“I’m fighting for funding in this year’s budget to restore it,” State Sen. Sarah Anthony, the local Democrat heading the Senate Appropriations Committee, said by text. “It’s an amazing, unique historical treasure that would be a game changer for that portion of south Lansing.”

But the lawmaker also cautioned that the budget “isn’t final yet, so there are no guarantees.”

Legislators have agreed on an overall dollar amount for the FY 2023-’24 budget year, which begins Oct. 1, but details are still being worked out, including whether to give the $6.2 million to the City of Lansing.

The city-owned, ellipsoidal fieldstone structure, opened in 1922. It was designed by Wesley Bintz, the city’s engineer, who created about 150 of similar design in 23 states after he quit the city and created a pool company. One of the few to survive, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The city shut it down in 2019 because of mounting maintenance issues. Since then, preservation groups have been clamoring for its restoration.

Republican State Sen. Jim Runestad of Oakland County has blasted $838 million in funding for “pet projects” in lawmakers’ districts — including the J.H. Moores Natatorium, as it is officially known. His concern is that there is no accountability for assigning these funds under the current budget process. He wants each appropriation to carry the name of a lawmaker supporting it as well as have the bill and supporting documents in hand 72 hours before he’s expected to vote on budget bills. 

Tuesday morning, though, Runestad said he was open to the pool dollars. 

“I was certainly not specifying that project, because I don’t know all the details,” the self-described history buff said. “Is it something that is such a historic significance and so widespread that it is absolutely going be used by people all over the region?”

He also said it was important for local governments to have “skin in the game” for projects funded by the state. He said that prevents the project dollars from being misspent in lucrative no-bid contracts.

The Moores Park Pool appears to meet his requirements. Both State Rep. Emily Dievendorf, who represents Lansing’s northern tier, and Anthony, who represents parts of Ingham and Eaton counties, have advocated for the money. And locals have also spent at least $150,000 in both private and public dollars to do the leg work to make the project shovel-ready. 

First, a community group raised $40,000 to determine what it would take to bring the pool back to life. Then last year, the City Council approved $110,000 to pay for blueprints to renew the pool to its glory days. That was before decades of weather-wear combined with state revenue-sharing cuts and recession took their toll.

Mayor Andy Schor closed the pool in 2019 after it was discovered to be leaking significantly.

“We were pretty upfront that it was gonna be several millions of dollars and we needed to raise money to fix that,” he said.” We couldn’t take it from other services.”

That led to the formation of the Friends of Moores Park late that year. The goal was to determine how much damage there was and what it would cost to restore it.

“It’s an above-ground pool in a state with a massive freeze-thaw cycle,” Schor said. The constant freeze and thaw led to significant degradation of the pipes, with each ending up with “collars” to seal leaks. The pool also posed a challenge because it was designed at a time when people with disabilities were not taken into account.

“Someone who is disabled can’t walk the stairs,” Schor said. “You have to have cranes and lifts and things. So, it’s certainly a challenging pool. These days, we would build a zero-level pool that anybody could just wade right into. But it’s a hundred years old. We’ve learned a lot in those years.”

Dwindling city coffers also contributed to the decline of the pool. Leading into and during the Great Recession, state lawmakers cut back on revenue sharing, causing cities like Lansing to slash local budgets. 

Dale Schrader, a member of Preservation Lansing and the Friends group, said the citizen group raised $40,000 during the COVID pandemic to assess what restoration would cost. That assessment had “a lot of contingencies,” with the cost ranging from $3.5 million to $6.2 million.

The process, Schrader said Monday, “showed a lot of support from the community.” The money was raised without in-person events because of COVID, showing “grassroots support,” he said.

The money budgeted by the City Council has already been contracted out to a firm, Schor said, and blueprints are “near ready, if not complete already.”

Dievendorf said the pool and surrounding park were part of the reason she purchased a home in the neighborhood in 2008. “When I came to look at my house, you could see the children of the neighborhood all around the neighborhood going together in groups on their bikes over to Moores Park,” she said. The park nestles along the Grand River near the old Eckert Power Plant, also known as Wynken, Blynken and Nod for its three massive smokestacks.

She said that restoring the pool will help with an economic driver called “placemaking.” That’s where locations and things to do serve to draw and retain people in the region where they work. 

“It provides that focal point and gathering space for our residents,” she said. 

Schor acknowledged the restored pool could assist in revitalizing the south ends of Washington Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard while also benefiting the neighborhood.

One looming issue, however, is how to pay for the upkeep to prevent it from falling back into decay. 

“In terms of the extra maintenance, I would like that to be sustainable, and we’re certainly going to have to have conversations about that,” said Schor. “There have been a lot of people who said they wanted to contribute and get money. They thought they could raise 6 million. So, if we can raise a fund for ongoing extra maintenance, that would certainly make it more sustainable.”



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