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Modesty Makes A S-P-L-A-S-H!
Esther Allweiss Ingber
Oak Park pool offers gender-separated hours.
The likely closing of the Jewish Community Center’s Jimmy Prentis Morris (JPM) branch in Oak Park, announced in January 2015, was a low point for many residents.
Orthodox Jewish patrons in and near Oak Park were particularly distressed about losing the JPM indoor pool. Because of modesty practices, most Orthodox Jews require gender-separated swimming. The JPM pool had offered that.
A week before the facility closed on Aug. 31, 2015, Jewish Federation leaders told a packed community gathering that an “anonymous donor” had a plan to preserve the swimming pool while tearing down the rest of the 59-year-old JPM structure.
Audience members were both relieved and excited at the prospect of getting a brand-new, state-of-the-art Jewish communal facility. But their hopes were dashed. No JPM replacement building fills the leveled site on the A. Alfred Taubman Jewish Community Campus.
This story got considerably happier when the city of Oak Park stepped in, agreeing to provide a special accommodation for swimmers using the outdoor Oak Park Municipal Pool.
As Oak Park Mayor Marian (Meisner) McClellan tells it, “The number of Oak Park residents who are Orthodox has been growing. After my election, several of them asked me if there could be male-only and female-only swim times.”
Previous city recreation directors told McClellan that funds were not available in the city budget for new construction at the pool. Laurie Stasiak, who took over as recreation director in May 2016, “was the first to figure out a way to make gender-separate swimming happen,” McClellan said.
Stasiak met with staff in the city’s Department of Public Works to determine a low-cost, flexible way to screen off the pool, when desired.
“We didn’t want anything cumbersome or heavy,” said Denise DeSantis, city director of Community Engagement and Public Information.
To keep swimmers from being observed at the outside perimeter of the pool, the city decided to purchase screens, or “curtains,” providing 100 percent privacy, such as those seen at construction sites.
Three pool areas in need of curtain mechanisms were identified.
One large curtain was installed on the south side of the pool, between the main building’s locker room and the concession building. The total span of the 8-foot-high, blue vinyl curtain between the buildings is 140 feet. A 4- by 6-foot pole secures a cable in the middle of the span. Carabiners, little hooks with locking clasps, are clipped on the ends of the curtain panels. The mechanisms allow the panels to be pulled open or shut with the ease of a shower curtain.
Two gates that required privacy coverage also were fitted with removable curtains. One gate leads to the pool from the basketball courts and the other from the north side of the pool to the ballfields.
Last August, with the privacy problem solved and same-sex lifeguards in place, “for the first time in Oak Park’s history, our pool began hosting separate swim hours for females and males,” Stasiak said. (See below for 2018 hours.)
The special accommodation was appreciated not only for reasons of religious tradition.
“Some women and girls may prefer to swim without being in the presence of men. And, vice versa, men and boys may prefer to swim without being in the presence of females,” DeSantis said.
The change proved “hugely popular,” McClellan said. “Usually we get 50 people using the pool” at sessions, but Stasiak relayed that sometimes more than 200 came out.
The new season will offer expanded female-only, male-only and adult-only pool times and the addition of water aerobics and swimming instruction classes. The latter was requested to accommodate those who have never learned to swim for lack of gender-separated classes.
McClellan said Oak Park received at least 40 thank-you notes last year “from grateful residents who could finally use their pool.”
To quote a few:
“It was so nice to be able to swim laps and have a great time with other ladies from our community.” — Nechama K.
“My entire family really enjoyed the beautiful pool and splash.” — Ettie S.
“I really appreciated the fact that you worked to accommodate the needs of the Jewish community.” — Chana D.
“Gender-separated swimming bridges a programming gap we’ve had in the past,” Stasiak said. “We listened to the community and made it happen.”
Schedule for gender-separated swimming
Female-only swim times are Mondays and Wednesdays, 7:30 to 9 p.m. and Sundays, 10:30 a.m. to noon.
Male-only swim times are Tuesdays and Thursdays,7:30 to 9 p.m.
Pool opens June 9
The Oak Park Municipal Pool, 14300 Oak Park Blvd., is holding a grand opening party, 1-6 p.m. Saturday,
June 9. The pool remains open through Aug. 26.
Information about day rates and season passes, also open to Ferndale residents, is available at oakparkmi.gov/recreation/oak_park_pool.php or (248) 691-7555.