Politicians threw a bash to splash at the new Congress Park Pool, but not everybody swam

“I didn’t bring my trunks,” Mayor Michael Hancock told the crowd. Councilman Chris Hinds couldn’t find his.

Kids leap into the newly renovated Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kids leap into the newly renovated Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
kyle harris

Denver Parks and Recreation Director Happy Haynes plunged into the Congress Park Pool and showed off her impressive crawl on Tuesday morning, signaling the pool’s long-awaited reopening had finally arrived.

In truth, the pool opened on July 23, giving Parks and Rec a couple of weeks to troubleshoot any last-minute issues before the public-facing political splash.

Dressed in a suit — not a swimsuit — District 10 Councilmember Chris Hinds noted he had looked for his trunks but couldn’t find them.

City Council member Chris Hinds announces the reopening of the Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

City Council member Chris Hinds announces the reopening of the Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

He considered taking a dip in a pair of shorts, but decided the threading wasn’t quite right for the Congress Park pool christening.

His ruminations about thread count did give him a chance to spin a wild metaphor about how a community’s threads come together: “It had me thinking about the threads here in Congress Park, the threads of community that have happened over the 70 years that this pool has been opened.”

Congress Park Pool before its completion in 1956 and full of people in 1957.

Congress Park Pool before its completion in 1956 and full of people in 1957.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Western History Collection

Mayor Michael Hancock — who wore neither his signature business suit nor a bathing suit but rather a smart button-up and slacks — also declined to swim.

“I didn’t bring my trunks,” he told the crowd.

After the festivities, he told Denverite why he declined to take the plunge.

City Council member Chris Hinds (left) and Mayor Michael Hancock announce the reopening of the Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

City Council member Chris Hinds (left) and Mayor Michael Hancock announce the reopening of the Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“Well, first of all, I’ve never learned to swim,” he said. “So I don’t pretend. One of the things: This is about safety. We’ll let them do it.”

It’s not that he doesn’t like the water.

“I love being in the pool, wading in the pool,” he said. “But jumping in without that skill, not so much.”

He cackled.

Parks and Rec staff offered him swim lessons in the fall.

“I’m gonna learn to swim before the end of the year,” he said. “That’s what we just set up.”

Performative political promise or a genuine pledge? Time will tell.

So why did this renovation happen, anyhow?

The old pool, 50 meters in length, was cherished by lap swimmers but often shut down because of mechanical mishaps.

“After a good 63 years of operation, the previous pool that was built in 1955, was one of Denver’s oldest pools and had become quite costly to maintain,” Haynes said.

Denver Parks and Rec executive director Happy Haynes floats through the newly reopened Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Denver Parks and Rec executive director Happy Haynes floats through the newly reopened Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“Residents themselves became well aware of these maintenance issues and pointed them out to us often,” she continued. “The pool opened later in the season or had to close due to leaks and other things. And they were experiencing all of those trials and tribulations over these past few years.”

Hancock first learned about the technical issues the old pool was having around 2015 at a Safe Night Out event at Congress Park.

City Council member Chris Hinds (left to right), Parks and Rec executive director Happy Haynes and Mayor Michael Hancock announce the reopening of the Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

City Council member Chris Hinds (left to right), Parks and Rec executive director Happy Haynes and Mayor Michael Hancock announce the reopening of the Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

“It was during that time that a resident approached me to share that the pool had to be closed again, after numerous openings and closings and numerous openings and closings, because of mechanical problems, and that we needed to fix this pool once and for all,” he said.

So when his administration pushed for the 2017 Elevate Denver bond, the restoration of the Congress Park Pool became a priority.

Lucy Fryer and Arlie play in a new splashpad at the renovated Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Lucy Fryer and Arlie play in a new splashpad at the renovated Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The new pool, which cost taxpayers $10.1 million, is a big improvement.

The pool, once a massive, serviceable rectangle, now has an addition to the side where swim lessons can happen during lap-swim hours.

There is a new pool area and splash pad for small children with various play features.

“It’s like so much bigger, I feel like,” said Zoe Deterding, a young swimmer who hadn’t been in the pool since 2019. “When I walked up, I was like, this is not what it used to look like.”

“It’s a lot bigger,” agreed her little sister Pippi. “I really like it, too.”

The renovated Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

The renovated Congress Park pool. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

And unlike most Denver pools, there’s a diving board — though it wasn’t open during the celebration.

Behind the scenes, the pool includes a state-of-the-art water filtration facility that uses sand to keep things clean.

A new mural by Ratha Sok, called “Take a Chance,” funded by the 1 percent for public art tax, is a celebration of love. Sok collaborated with East High School students on the piece.

“It’s titled “Take a Chance,” because when you take a chance on love, for love, it’s worth it,” he explained.

The Congress Park pool's newly renovated entryway. Aug. 2, 2022.

The Congress Park pool's newly renovated entryway. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

There are a few missing elements that will be unveiled in the 2023 summer swim season.

Those include painted-on lanes for lap swimmers.

“I wanted to open up this summer,” said Deputy Manager of Recreation John Martinez. “The lap lanes are cosmetic things that people won’t notice — at least, the average person. So I wanted to make sure we got it open this summer.”

The herculean overall is ongoing.

“We’ll come back after the season and do some cosmetic touch-ups and paint,” Martinez said. “But again, it’s nothing that the average person would notice.”

Hurry up! There isn’t much time left to check out the new pool. The season’s ending in under two weeks.

Denver’s outdoor pool season runs from June 13 through August 13.

This has been a particularly challenging summer swim season with a statewide lifeguard shortage.

Luke Howes patrols the Congress Park pool as it finally reopens. Aug. 2, 2022.

Luke Howes patrols the Congress Park pool as it finally reopens. Aug. 2, 2022.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Though these pros are there to save lives and keep swimmers safe, too often, they are sorely underpaid. That prompted Governor Jared Polis to dedicate $350,000 to hiring more lifeguards.

Lifeguard Luke Howes said he was given a $1,000 sign-on bonus and training, which helped staff some positions.

Because of the shortage, Parks and Recreation had to close six indoor pools.

The longtime closure of the Congress Park pool has irked many residents, who have regularly griped to Hinds’s office.

“We had a pretty constant stream of people unhappy that it took a while for the pool to open,” said Hinds.

He had had one constituent who demanded he come down, take off his shirt and tie, roll up his sleeves and literally help finish the pool.

“I’m not sure how helpful I’d be,” he said. “But not all of my constituents know that I use a wheelchair to get around, so I’m not sure if she knew or not.”

The Congress Park pool gets renovations on June 3, 1991.

The Congress Park pool gets renovations on June 3, 1991.

Ken Papaleo/Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Western History Collection
Kids play at the Congress Park Pool on June 9, 1956.

Kids play at the Congress Park Pool on June 9, 1956.

Donated to the Denver Public Library by the Rocky Mountain News/Western History Collection

 

Stormy weather also didn’t help speed up the opening, as it prevented the epoxy paint and waterproofing from drying.

“We had a lot of rain in May and that kind of set back the last bit of work that we had on the pool,” Hinds said. “But as Happy said, we really put all hands on deck to make sure that we could have the pool open for at least part of this season.”

Kevin J. Beaty contributed to the reporting of this story. 

 

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