Miami Gardens - Opa-locka

Bunche Park residents make a plea for historic pool’s return

Patricia Graham Marks, right, asks a question as Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, left, listens during a community meeting Wednesday night at Love Fellowship Ministries in Miami Gardens, in the Bunche Park neighborhood.
Patricia Graham Marks, right, asks a question as Miami Gardens Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro, left, listens during a community meeting Wednesday night at Love Fellowship Ministries in Miami Gardens, in the Bunche Park neighborhood. Miami Herald Staff

Dozens of residents of the Bunche Park neighborhood of Miami Gardens gathered at a community meeting Wednesday night with a clear message — reopen the Bunche Park Pool.

The occasionally tense meeting at Love Fellowship Ministries church was sponsored by Councilman Erhabor Ighodaro primarily to discuss community issues and how the $60 million general obligation bond will be used for projects at Bunche Park and the nearby pool.

But the residents only wanted to discuss the pool and the city’s proposal for the site. The main point of contention, and some confusion, was the two options the city proposed as part of its bond implementation plan.

The plan called for either the reopening and repair of the existing pool or a water playground. Assistant City Manager Craig Clay said reopening and renovating the pool would cost about $4.3 million and includes purchasing a nearby lot for additional parking and an estimated $165,000 for pool maintenance. The playground would cost about $2.2 million and the maintenance about $55 million.

Residents, including Paula Pearson, said they didn’t care about the cost of bringing the pool back as long as it returns. She shared a story about nearly drowning at the pool when she was young but being saved and taught to swim by another girl and the impact it had on her as she eventually became a professional golfer.

“Saving lives and having a place where kids can swim is much more important than all the money,” Pearson said. “Do whatever you have to do to reopen that pool so that kids can get the opportunity to survive.”

The pool has been closed for several years and many of the residents spoke about the safety component but also said the facility was helpful in providing jobs and another activity for teenagers and children in the area.

Lewis Smith, who grew up in the area and worked at the pool from about 1998 to 2004, said that he taught countless students how to swim and that his training helped him become a paramedic. He said it also impacted his family.

He told a story about his grandmother collapsing years ago and said he was able to resuscitate her because of the CPR and first aid training he received.

“She told everybody till the day she died, ‘That’s my grandson, that’s the one that saved me,’ ” Smith said.

Councilman Rodney Harris, who represents the district that includes Bunche Park, along with council members Ighodaro and David Williams, said that when the plan for Bunche Park Pool is brought to the City Council they will support rebuilding the pool.

“If the people of Bunche Park want a pool, they’ll have a pool,” Harris said.

Clay said work at Bunche Park could begin this fall and take about 18 months, but stressed that all the plans were preliminary. Beyond the pool, the plan for the neighboring park is to build an alternative sports complex. The current recreation building would be torn down and replaced with a multi-story gym with a running track on the second floor and classes in boxing, gymnastics, martial arts and dance.

While some residents disagreed on the plan for the complex, they agreed that more focus needed to be placed on development in the area and the surrounding neighborhoods.

“We’ve had enough, everything has happened north of [State Road] 826,” resident Woodrow Wilson said.

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