CARBONDALE - The Carbondale Park District Board voted unanimously Monday night to dismiss its court petition to sell Hickory Lodge, a property that had been donated to the district years ago by the Martin family and had been the district's office until 2004, when park operations were moved to the LIFE Community Center.

It also heard and saw a presentation indicating public support for an outdoor swimming pool for the community.

"We've heard the community," board President Michael Heck said, explaining why the petition to sell Hickory Lodge was dismissed. He added that the board didn't anticipate the public's outraged reaction to the planned sale of the stately former home and gardens on West Sycamore.

The board will reconsider its plans, he said, and form a task force to study options for best use of the building and surrounding grounds. "Any reasonable solutions or options will be studied" by the board, Heck emphasized. If it becomes necessary to pursue sale of the lodge, the board might call a referendum to allow the public to vote for a -tax, if it were needed to make the property become viable.

Several community members in the audience applauded the board for reconsidering the sale. Ed Van Awken asked if he could become a member of the task force. He also asked the park board to name the property to indicate that "it belongs to the public." He said he met one woman - a descendent of Carbondale founder Daniel Brush - who had no idea Hickory Lodge was a public building.

"Tonight has been very heartening," said Kris Schachel, another opponent of the proposed sale. She, too, volunteered to work with the task force.

"Make a Splash for Carbondale!" was the title of a presentation from a committee formed in 2003 when all groups participating in Study Circles groups cited the need for an outdoor pool in the community.

After computer woes caused delays, the board and audience eventually saw a Power Point presentation from the committee that has been studying possibilities of getting an outdoor aquatics center for Carbondale.

After several abortive attempts to show the program, Heck dispatched golf course director Michael Day to Heck's home. Day returned with a laptop that proved what was needed to present the program.

Sally Wright, chairperson of the committee, showed results of a survey that was mailed to 8,600 households - every household in the park district, she said. And 11 percent of the surveys were returned, 968 in all.

Asked if there is a need for an outdoor pool, 80.5 percent of respondents said yes, 19.5 percent no and 13 percent had no response.

Asked if the Carbondale Park District should provide that facility, 77 percent of respondents said yes.

Funding options also were presented; most respondents favored seeking grants, but others also saw corporate sponsorships, private donations and other options, including partnerships between the district and the city and/or Jackson County.

An outdoor pool is far more than a hole in the ground these days, Wright observed. So the committee's survey listed a number of possible amenities. Most respondents (77 percent) favored having shade on the decks; 69 percent wanted a waterslide; 62 percent wanted a lap swim area; 60 percent favored a beach-style entry (a gradual slope into the water); 57 percent wanted a splash pad area for toddlers; and 56 percent wanted a "lazy river" feature with a slow current that could be used for floating on tubes, or wading or swimming against the current for exercise.

Wright noted that 58 percent of those responding to the survey said they travel to use other aquatic facilities in other cities. That travel trend could be reversed, she said, if Carbondale had an aquatic facility with amenities for the whole family. And those families could be expected to spend money in town on far more than pool admission fees, she added.

One-third of the respondents said they would support a tax referendum if it is needed to obtain the pool.

Public comments were favorable, noting that fees could help keep the pool sustainable, and also that it could provide jobs for young people. A group of youngsters trooped forward to the lectern in beach gear to give their colorful nod to the prospect of an outdoor pool.

Heck thanked the committee, saying he is "incredibly proud" of the job it did. Now, he added, he's looking for "action plans" to keep the momentum and take the effort to the next level.

The board plans to ask its other advisory committees to add their expertise for help in funding and other specifics, to share the burden of bringing the idea to reality.

In other action Monday, the board decided to step up the time frame for naming a nine-member task force to study planned improvements for Attucks Park on North Wall Street, and to prioritize needs for the 27-acre facility. The board agreed to name the task force members by January, possibly as early as December, and ask it to report its priorities by March 31, to start construction in spring.

Those interested in serving on the task force are asked to contact the park district as soon as possible.

(618) 351-5079


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