To the editor:

Let's dive into the pool. One thing I know for sure about community development is that it is never easy. Change is hard.

I believe the closure of our public pool is a symptom of a larger problem in our community. It seems to me that we have fallen victim to a culture where our community reacts to problems, rather than taking a proactive approach. I believe part of that stems from a lack of complete transparency at times, but more importantly I think it comes from a lack of engagement. It feels like we wait until we’re in the midst of losing something we love and then we become outraged. Whether it be a school, a historic building or a public pool, we take a reactive approach to news that these spaces are "beyond saving" but took the space for granted until it’s too late. I’m reminded of that 90’s love ballad “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.”

In order to solve this issue, we must shift our thinking. We must work to connect neighbors to take pride in their collective space. We must ask and listen to experts on ways to be proactive about historic preservation. We must have a vision for the future and bring people together to make that vision a reality. Just look at our neighbors to the south. The riverfront development projects in Fort Wayne didn’t happen overnight. During my time as the project manager for IPFW’s RiverFest, I met people who had been working on riverfront preservation and enhancements for decades. RiverFest itself was intended to get the community actually on and in the rivers, not just driving over them. These intentional and proactive leaders shared a common vision and understood how to bring others into the conversation.

Now the question is, “What can we do going forward?” During the Hometown Collaboration Initiative process — more information can be found at indianahci.org — our team surveyed 1,186 people and offered a community forum with over 100 people in attendance. This far exceeded the expectations by our Purdue and Ball State University partners. This tells me that our community wants to be heard.

Once we better understand the interest level of this large investment, we would then need to drill down into the concept at every angle. What are the current assets in our community? How many people have their own private or neighborhood pools now versus 10 years ago? With the schools’ new balanced schedule, does the shortened summer warrant this type of investment? All these questions bear the need for deeper exploration.

If after all these things are answered, we as a community conclude that water recreation is a need in Auburn, the real work begins. Now we must understand the details. Where would the facility be located? How could it be funded? How do we make sure it’s sustainable? Not to mention what type of facility would be best suited to our needs. What are the pros and cons of a splash pad? A public pool? A water park? Could we ever have a space that could be maintained with our current parks budget? What can we learn from our neighbors in Garrett or Columbia City about their facilities? None of these questions have an easy answer.

This one topic has so many possible conclusions. I believe that through bringing people together and discovering our community through a new lens, we have better and more sustainable outcomes. There are no easy solutions, but I know this community can come together to do hard things. We’ve proven it time and time again.

Sarah Payne

Auburn

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