Mayor Michelle Wu announced this week that the city this year will reopen three community center pools in Dorchester, Jamaica Plain, and Mattapan that were closed due to staffing shortages and facility renovations.
In a speech to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Wu said the reopening of public pools is a part of a multi-year plan centered around increasing access for children to learn about swimming, riding bikes, sports, arts, and gardening.
“We know that life outcomes in adulthood are so often driven by quality of life in adolescence and that adolescent quality of life is linked to early childhood experiences,” Wu said.
Public pools will reopen at the Perkins Community Center in Dorchester and the Hennigan in Jamaica Plain, which both closed last year due to lifeguard shortages, and the Mattahunt Community Center in Mattapan, which has been closed for renovations since June 2020. Mattahunt, Perkins, and Hennigan are expected to open this summer, according to the mayor’s office.
The Curley Community Center beachfront in South Boston will also reopen this year in the spring.
Boston Centers for Youth & Families officials temporarily closed more than half of the pools it manages last year after a nationwide lifeguard shortage, raising concerns in communities of color that were historically kept out of swimming pools and beaches.
Mattapan’s only other public swimming pool, at Mildred Avenue, was among those that shut down, in a neighborhood with a population that is 94 percent people of color. The Globe previously reported that three of the five pools closed over staffing concerns were in neighborhoods where the median household income is lower than the city’s.
“I remember last year when this was coming to a head,” at-large City Councilor Julia Mejia said. “There were a lot of concerns around equity and [communities of color] being targeted.”
Since then, some of the closed pools have reopened, including the Mildred Avenue site, which reopened last fall, according to staff at the community center.
Mejia said she’s excited that public pools are reopening in neighborhoods with large populations of color. Providing those neighborhoods with opportunities to learn how to swim is “the responsible thing to do,” Mejia said.
“I grew up learning how to swim in [water from] a fire hydrant,” Mejia said. “I’m still an adult and I don’t know how to swim.”
Mejia said the pools also help to relieve stress for those who have been cooped up at home after the pandemic and were not able to go outside during the past few summers. She said she’s happy to see pools opening their doors for the upcoming summer months as that is when many young people need activities to do.
The pools reopening is part of Wu’s multi-year plan that aims to increase the opportunities and resources for young children to “connect with their communities and pursue their passions.”
“Our young people don’t just deserve better, they need it,” Wu said in her speech Thursday. “And we need them.”
The city will also conduct an audit on all existing youth sport programming to “identify gaps where we’re not serving our young athletes equitably.”
Wu said the initiative introduces a pilot bike riding program for children this summer in East Boston Stadium, Almont Park, Town Field, and Moakley Park, as well as an arts program in a number of BCYF centers that is funded through America Rescue Plan COVID-relief dollars, and additional raised plant beds throughout Boston.
The youth-focused initiative also aims to increase youth employment by awarding more than $13 million to over 50 Boston-based non-profit organizations that are hiring about 5,000 youth.
“If we expect our young people to be strong stewards of a strong city tomorrow, we need to be investing in the strength of both today,” Wu said.
Ashley Soebroto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ashsoebroto.