Dozens of longtime Miami Gardens residents from one of the city’s southernmost neighborhoods gathered Monday morning for the Bunche Park Pool groundbreaking ceremony — a ceremony that many residents said was long overdue.
The pool has been closed since the summer of 2007, after falling into disrepair, and will now be among the first projects funded by the city’s 2014 $60 million general obligation bond issue. The existing facility will be demolished and replaced with a new pool and two new buildings along with an expanded and renovated parking lot.
Among the crowd was actress Jo Marie Payton, from the sitcom “Family Matters,” who grew up in the area and attended North Dade Middle School. She moved back to South Florida about nine years ago and when she visited her old neighborhood she was sad to see the pool closed.
“It’s important that we have a place where we can meet and talk and gather and build community,” Payton said. “I’m so excited because it’s going to bring the kids together, the neighbors together, the community together.”
Payton, like many other people at the ceremony, said she learned to swim in the pool and said it attracted people from all over Miami-Dade County. The city currently has a pool at the Betty T. Ferguson Center which is almost four4 miles away from Bunche Park.
“It’s not about the water because we know where the beach is, we know where the Betty T. Ferguson Center is. We needed something solid here in our community,” Payton said.
The pool, which was built in 1963, has come up often in this year’s election and was the major focus of a community meeting last year where Bunche Park residents demanded that the city find a way to keep it open. Many of the residents spoke about the safety component of learning to swim but also said the facility was helpful in providing jobs and an additional activity to occupy the time of teenagers and children in the area.
Millicent Brown-Storr, who has lived in Miami Gardens since 1971, said that she worked at the pool for nearly 30 years before she was transferred to another facility. She also recalled the swim meets and the track and field competitions at the neighboring park across the street and how they drew hundreds of people and attracted kids from other parks.
“I was real hurt when they closed, but I’m happy they’re bringing it back,” Brown-Storr said.
The plan for the pool was first approved in May 2015 and city staff estimated that building the new pool and facility would cost about $4.3 million including the purchase of a nearby lot for parking; they estimated the cost of pool maintenance at $165,000.
City leaders have said demolition will happen before the end of the year. Construction won’t actually begin until January.
The project is still in the design review phase and the developer’s final design plan is due to the city in a few weeks.
Beyond the pool, the plan for the neighboring park, across the street, is to build an alternative sports complex. The current recreation building would be torn down and replaced with a multi-story gymnasium with a running track on the second floor and instruction in boxing, gymnastics, martial arts and dance.
“We’re starting here because, for so many reasons, we all started here,” Mayor Oliver Gilbert said. “We played on Bunche Park and we swam in Bunche Park Pool, that will be the testimony for kids for generations to come.”