PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A rally to open an unused Olympic-size swimming pool inside Sayre Morris Recreation Center brought dozens of people to Philadelphia's Cobbs Creek neighborhood Tuesday evening.
Residents gathered outside on the sidewalk with empty kiddie pools that had no water to send the message that kids in the neighborhood have nowhere to swim.
"Violence is at an all-time high. Our children don't have things to do. Our community, our seniors don't have places to go, and this is free. We pay taxes for these buildings," said Kirsten Britt who organized the rally.
The pool has remained empty and unused since 2017.
"In general, we need to have pools open in our neighborhoods especially in neighborhoods struggling with gun violence," said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. The pool sits in her district.
Gauthier has tried several approaches to solve the funding issue.
"The community and I took this to a school board vote in February, they voted it down," said Gauthier.
A $10 million resolution was on the table for the pool, but Gauthier said $4 million would fix the pool and make it operable. During budget negotiations, she has also tried to get that funding in the city's FY 2023 budget.
Seniors say they also feel cheated.
Larry Brown led water aerobics here for years. "People see me and are like what's going on?" he said.
Cheryl Akbar was a member of his class.
"I was here faithfully Tuesday and Thursday. I was in a class, we had over 60 people in that pool," said Akbar.
Besides a place for recreation, organizers say more pools are needed for teaching kids to swim, and in turn, it could help with the ongoing lifeguard shortage.
As of the week of Memorial Day, the City of Philadelphia had only filled 100 lifeguard positions, which means only 40% of pools could open this summer.
"You can't just wake up today and say I want to be a lifeguard, you got to know how to swim. You have to be certified and trained -- that's the message we want the city to see," said Britt.
Maita Soukup, the communications director for the Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, released this statement to Action News:
"The community has waited for far too long for the Sayre-Morris indoor pool to be fixed. It is a critical community resource that we cannot continue to have remain in a state of disrepair.
Each summer, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation needs to recruit between 350-400 lifeguards, and the same number of pool maintenance attendants, to fully staff our 60+ outdoor pools. By the hiring deadline of June 3, we had identified 80% of the required staff. The pool opening schedule is being prepared now, based on which pools have the staff to open safely. We expect to release the schedule in the next week.
Should the impact of the national lifeguard shortage prevent all pools from opening again this year, we will aim to open as many pools as possible, and make the decision on which pools will open based on: available staffing, geography, neighborhood need, past pool usage data, and other nearby cooling options (like spraygrounds and splash pads). Some parts of the City have a much higher number/concentration of pools. In neighborhoods with multiple pools, PPR will seek to open the largest or most visited pool in the neighborhood, in order to serve the most residents."