Roanoke’s new Washington Park swimming pool won’t open before next summer as city officials initially hoped.
Building a state-of-the-art aquatic facility to replace the park’s 1970s pool — which was removed after it began settling atop an old landfill — is a top priority for the parks department.
About a month ago, contractors provided the city with a construction timeframe, according to an email from Angie O’Brien, assistant city manager, to resident Darnell Wood.
“It is anticipated the pool will open in summer 2025,” city spokeswoman Carol Corbin confirmed in an email this week. “In light of this development, Parks and Recreation staff are already having conversations on programming at Washington Park for summer 2024.”
The additional time may also play in favor of efforts to salvage the park’s caretaker’s cottage, one of the city’s earliest standing structures which has fallen into disrepair.
Separately from the delay, an initial pool design shows the cottage, known as the Evans House, outside the footprint for the pool, according to Corbin. In August, City Council directed city staff to hold off on demolishing the 1840 building until the pool construction firm confirmed it would be in the way.
“In the preliminary proposal, it does appear the pool, pool house, and parking lot will allow for the Evans House to remain at its current location in Washington Park,” Corbin wrote. “However, at this time we are still in negotiation with the preferred vendor and plan review is not complete.”
As such, the cottage’s fate is far from assured.
But advocates for saving the building welcomed the early sign that it could be spared.
Activism around the cottage has bubbled up after the city decided in May to place the swimming pool on the lower part of the park where the Evans House stands. Advocates say the building plays an important role in the city’s Black history, at one time the home of a caretaker in the Jim Crow era.
“We believe there is a ‘win-win’ solution that will allow for the much-needed new swimming pool while also renovating the Caretaker’s House for an adaptive reuse that serves the community and supports the park activities,” said a Nov. 2 letter sent to City Council whose signatories included Whitney Leeson, president of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation, and Jeanette Manns of Friends of Washington Park, a new advocacy group.
Though built by white settlers in the mid-1800s, the house “became central to Roanoke’s Black community when it was converted to a caretaker’s house in the 1920s as part of Washington Park,” the letter noted. “We know of no other building in Roanoke that bridges these two deeply segregated communities in such a unique way. It represents the transition of this area from initial settlement by early slaveholders to a recreational hub for the Black community of Roanoke and the surrounding region.”
The advocates encouraged the city to redirect $35,000 earmarked for demolition toward stabilizing the building or relocating the pool to the football field on the top part of the park.
Cathy Carter, a Gainsboro resident involved in the Washington Park group, said plenty of work lies ahead if the city agrees to salvage the building.
“We want to make sure the house can be stabilized before a whole lot of moving and digging and carrying on starts,” Carter said. “By the pool not being ready until 2025, they still have a little timing to, you know, try to figure that out.”
Wood, who reached out to O’Brien about the new swimming pool’s status, said he was disappointed but not surprised that the open date has been pushed back.
“Here we go another year and the children in Northwest don't have anywhere to go for the summer,” Wood said, “and a bounce house with water running down it just don't get it.”
Roanoke has earmarked $3.25 million for the construction of a new pool to replace the one built in 1976. A city study from 2021 ranked the Washington Park Pool as highest in resident support for renovation out of all the parks department’s facilities.
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