For many Medford children, it's going to be a long, hot summer without Hawthorne Pool.
"It's been kind of an icon," said Medford resident Mark McCollum, who was watching his two grandchildren play on the swings at Hawthorne Park Tuesday. "It's going to be sad to see it go."
McCollum, 50, said his grandchildren have used the pool many times over the years, but figures they are old enough now to swim in the ponds by the Jackson County Fairgrounds & Exposition Park.
Hawthorne Pool will be closed for maintenance until 2012 after city officials discovered it leaks about 33,600 gallons of water a day. The 61-year-old facility is showing its age, with cracks in the pool and old, rusty pipes barely holding together in the basement.
Medford Parks and Recreation officials are scrambling to find ways to offer more programs at Jackson Pool this summer, but with only one public pool, some local children will find it more difficult to swim this summer — or even learn to swim.
Jackson Pool, which can handle about 200 people at a time, will be turning away a lot more children than it normally does. About 25,000 people show up every summer at Jackson and more than 8,000 people use Hawthorne Pool.
As a result, more than one-third of the 1,600 children who seek swim lessons at Jackson and Hawthorne every year — about 600 — won't this summer. And parks officials expect to hire seven fewer lifeguards — they normally hire about 40.
Businesses and individuals who rent out the pools also will find it more difficult to reserve time with just one facility open, though parks officials are planning to keep Jackson Pool open more hours. The city might open Jackson on Memorial Day, about two weeks earlier than normal.
Lyle Whittier said it's inexcusable that the city would close down Hawthorne Pool.
"This is ridiculous," the 77-year-old Medford resident said.
He said the city should use money from the Medford Urban Renewal Agency to keep the pools open and in good operating order. He rejected the idea of a $21.7 million bond measure the city is considering putting before voters for park improvements.
The city Parks and Recreation Commission has recommended constructing water parks at Jackson Park and Bear Creek Park to address the city's future aquatic needs in place of Jackson and Hawthorne parks.
Brian Sjothun, Parks and Recreation director, said the closing of Hawthorne is not an effort to promote a new aquatics facility.
He said the last thing he wants to do is deprive local children of recreational activities during the summer.
"This is gut-wrenching for me," he said. "People know I'm passionate for kids and families."
The city plans to hire an engineer to study the soil under the pool before investing $230,000 for repairs that would include spraying a lining over the inside to prevent leaks.
Those repairs will solve some of the problems at Hawthorne, but there are many others, including rusting pipes and an electrical panel that needs to be moved out of a basement area. The bathroom area and showers also need major renovation. Their condition is a source of complaints from the public, Sjothun said.
Jackson Pool, which leaks more than 3,000 gallons a day, should hold together this summer, he said.
The city will explore different options to provide additional swim lessons through the summer, including roping off one end of Hawthorne while the other end is reserved for open swimming.
Over the years, city officials have struggled to keep both Jackson and Hawthorne pools open because of maintenance issues.
Rich Rosenthal, city recreation superintendent, said parks and recreation officials understand the importance to the community of keeping both pools available during the summer.
"It breaks our heart, and it is extremely difficult for staff members to close the doors," he said. "We don't have any choice."
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.