When You're Fighting for Survival,
Beauty Takes a Back Seat
If you visit Jones Park, you'll find the toilets locked and portable outhouses in their place. They've turned the water off - the Park District cannot afford the sewage treatment fees charged by American Bottoms Sewer District.
It would take a million dollars to renovate Jones Park pool, Leonard Johnston, park district superintendent, said. It was built in 1958 - the same year as the Lincoln Park pool, back in the days of segregation. The Jones Park pool was bigger. Five years ago there was $700,000 spent on Lincoln Park pool in repairs - from a grant. It evaporates perhaps 30,000 gallons of water a day. There has not been a grant to fix Jones Park pool. If there were, the district couldn't afford the water.
This year the Park District budget is $249,000. Sixty per cent of the budget is fixed costs. Twenty years ago the budget was $500,000. Decreasing property assessments have brought the revenues down, at the same time costs have skyrocketed.
It grows in the sun, and because the lagoon was shallow and the sun reached the bottom, it filled the lagoon. Last year over the winter the district used a grant to deepen the lagoon by three or four feet to an average depth of six feet, on the advice of the department, thinking the sun couldn't reach that deep, but it didn't work. The only chemical that will keep the algae out also will kill the fish. It isn't very pretty, but as he said, when you are fighting for survival, beauty takes a back seat.
Lincoln park has its pool. But the Mary Martin Community Center is a dilapidated shell. The park is, at best, austere.
The district used to get grants to provide summer recreation programs, track and field events, youth baseball, tennis tournaments, in the parks, but there are no recreation grants anymore.
The newest park, Jackie Joyner Park in Denverside, was given to the city by Jackie Joyner-Kersee in 1985, after her spectacular showing at the 1984 Olympics. It is near where she grew up at 1433 Piggott Ave. But the district has given up other parks: Bluff View, 22 acres in the Signal Hill area, abandoned in the late '70s; Oak Park, at 51st at Summit, given to a group, perhaps the American Legion, before Johnston was superintendent; Washington park, at 50th and Audubon, given to the Washington Park Volunteer Firemen (but East St. Louis Park District still cuts the grass for the ball diamond and picnic shelters), one in Goose Hill, taken over in part by the East St. LouisHousing Authority, one sacrificed in Alorton to the Bond Avenue overpass.
The park district is not coextensive with the city limits, it reached out into other municipal jurisdictions. It is tax supported with an elected Board of Park Commissioners.
The seats in the concrete stadium at the once lighted softball diamond in Jones Park are empty now. There have been no games there since 1986. The softball players are "over the hill," Johnston said. The park district started charging $50 a game for lights -- their actual cost -- and the teams decided they did not want to play that badly. So the lights, like the water, were turned off.
Click here to take a photo tour of East St. Louis's parks
Johnston has no major plans. He is hanging on, doing the best he can, fighting for survival--and when you are fighting for survival...