Martin Luther King park

Spray “N” Playground at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Yakima.

Plans for a new outdoor pool at Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the east side of Yakima are moving forward.

Three possible designs for the pool now are in the hands of the city’s Parks and Recreation staff, who are planning to release them by mid-June and have a public meeting for feedback soon after.

The pool has been a long time coming, said Jason White, the Yakima City councilman whose district encompasses the MLK park.

And people are ready for it.

“It will give youth and families another opportunity, and it’s something that’s desperately wanted,” White said. “I’m incredibly excited with how rapidly it’s moving forward now, and I’m looking forward to public input.”

Ken Wilkinson, manager of the Yakima Parks and Recreation department, said the pool, once complete, will be an asset to the entire community.

To say he’s excited would be an understatement.

“Pools are not just places to cool off. It’s so much more than that,” Wilkinson said. “We need to give kids and families fun activities to do that are inexpensive. We provide the places, and you provide the memories.”

Martin Luther King Jr. Park, which already has a water playground or “spray park,” is at the corner of South Eighth and Beech streets next to Washington Middle School.

A pool for east-side residents

The city closed Miller Pool in 2005 and Washington Pool in 2006. Both were on the city’s east side.

Today, indoor Lions Pool is open year-round, and outdoor Franklin Pool is open in the summer.

Wilkinson remembered talk of replacing the east-side pool as early as 2008 but also noted that a downturn in the city’s economy prevented the conversations from becoming too deep.

He credits Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez, who was elected to the City Council in 2015, for reviving the conversation about the pool.

“Dulce has been a huge advocate for bringing opportunities to the east side,” Wilkinson said. “She brought the conversation back, so Parks started to explore options.”

A swimming pool ad hoc committee formed in 2016, explored the idea of the pool in 2017, and the full City Council approved funding for possible designs of the pool in 2018.

The Parks and Recreation department considered three properties for the proposed pool: the old Miller Pool location, MLK park, and some property on the Yakima Speedway that Wilkinson discovered wasn’t city-owned. He presented findings to the City Council in January 2018, at which point council voted for the MLK pool, he said.

“They were all real positive,” he said. “They told me, ‘Do it. It’s something we need.’”

Gutierrez, who is the representative for District 1, said Census Bureau data shows the highest density of the area’s children are in the east end of the city.

“It’s important to understand how equity plays into this,” she said. “The highest need is in east Yakima.”

Gutierrez added that she is satisfied with how the pool project is now moving forward.

“It’s been many years in the making, and folks are super excited,” she said. “They feel this is exactly what the city owes them. This is the city making good on its promise to east-side residents.”

Community feedback wanted

Gutierrez said the city is looking at ways to keep the pool’s amenities cost-

effective and fun.

“We’re doing our best to ensure it’s not just a hole in the ground with water but that it has fun amenities for kids and also spaces for families to have picnics,” she said.

The city has hired the firm Counsilman-Hunsaker, which specializes in aquatics, to design the future pool. The cost of those designs, not to exceed $35,000, was covered by monies from the city’s real estate excise taxes.

Wilkinson said the consultants submitted three designs for consideration. The parks department is not yet ready to publicly release them, but all three plans include a pool deck, public restrooms, 100 parking spaces, a concessions area, and an 8,000 square foot swimming pool. Additional features that differ across the designs include water slide variations and a spray park for children.

Wilkinson said the department hopes to release the designs to the public by mid-June and then will have several focus groups and a public hearing to get feedback.

“Once we start to get that feedback, then we can narrow it to one design,” he said. “And then we can look at how to fund it.”

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.