Haines City Dedicates New Oakland Community Pool To Elderly Community Advocate
by James Coulter
For many years, 90-year-old Janet Smith has been advocating for a new community pool in the Oakland area of Haines City. Ever since the old pool shut down in 2012, she has insisted that a new pool be created.
Smith has attended every city commission meeting. She had asked every city commissioner to consider directing funds towards the construction of a new pool. She had befriended many commissioners in hopes of their support. She had asked, she had begged, and she had pleaded.
Now, nearly a decade since the old pool closed down, Smith became one of the very first people to dip their toes into the new community pool during its ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday.
“I am so elated this afternoon to see that justice has come,” she said. “I am so happy. I am so elated to see that you all have done what you were supposed to do…Our community has grown by leaps and bounds, and I thank you all for showing that you love me.”
Named in her honor, The Janet J. Smith Oakland Community Pool was officially dedicated with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Saturday. After the ribbon cutting, Smith and a few of the city commissioners kicked off their shoes and became the first people to dip their toes into the pool.
The new pool is located at Ben W. Graham Park at 1900 N. 10th Street. It is a 3,328 square foot leisure swimming pool with interactive splash pad features. The pool officially broke ground on Mar. 9, 2020 and its construction cost an approximately $1,835,000, according to a press release.
“We hope this new facility will enhance the quality of life for our community by providing a safe, well maintained public space while strengthening the connection with the public,” said Terrell Griffin, Haines City Parks and Recreation Director.
The Oakland community in Haines City previously had a pool at the Dolphus Howard Complex, but that pool was forced to close down. The old pool had since been filled up and currently serves as the location of the community garden, which officially opened two weeks ago.
Haines City has the Aquatic Center with pool, water slides, and splash pad at Lake Eva Park. However, community members like Smith had been advocating for a new community pool in the Oakland area.
Mayor Morris West spoke of her tenacity in her advocating for the new pool. She did not have any children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, but she did have a heart for the children in her local community, and she firmly believed they deserved a nice place to swim.
He mentioned how he and his fellow commissioners had initially tried to vote for a pool in 2016, but they lost the vote. Upon receiving a third commission, their vote finally passed. The perseverance on his part and on the part of the commission and on advocates like Smith helped allow the pool to become a reality.
“If someone tells you no, don’t take no,” Mayor West said. “Do it again. If they tell you no, do it again. Until you finally get to yes. Today, we are at that yes. I thank you all for sitting next to me and seeing a need for this community pool. It is not only the Oakland Community Pool. It is for all residents.”
Mayor West and his wife will be utilizing funds from their foundation to provide swimming lessons to local children at the pool. Not every child who jumps into the pool will know how to swim, so they should all have the opportunity to learn, he said.
City Commissioner Anne Huffman remembered when Smith would attend their meetings and remind them about the importance of a new community pool. Huffman herself has grandchildren who live near the pool, and she is proud that they were able to open a pool to allow them and other children the opportunity to swim without having to travel to the other side of town.
“Many people say this day would not come, many people fought against us, but I am proud to stand here to say that through it all we held firm,” Huffman said. “We believed this community deserved to have a pool as well.”
Vice Mayor Horace West mentioned how fitting it was for the community pool to be named after Smith. She had advocated harder than anyone else to make the pool a reality, so it was only fitting that the pool be named in her honor.
When he was running for the city commission, he was visited by Smith at his house. He promised her three things: that the fertilizer plant is demolished, that the new park be named after another local advocate, and that they would build the pool.
“We got it done,” he said. “I have dreamed for the day that you would stick your toe in this pool. When people tell you no, you keep asking. I wanted to see this because I wanted you to see this with your eyes. So thank you for everything. You know I love you, and you are an amazing person who deserves this.”