Magnificent pool lies in ruins

Guyana Chronicle
April 8, 2001

It was a magnificent pool! Its operation provided an opportunity for many youths to enjoy the pleasures of swimming; fulfilled athletic, lifeguard, and swimming instructing careers; boosted the esteem of Guyanese; and provided hospitality to visitors. After some 25 years of operation of Luckhoo Swimming Pool, the pleasant ambiance was eclipse by a dismal hush.

The water slowly receded. There was no more laughter, no resonance of shaking springboards, nor splashing of water.

A sign was posted, "Pool closed until further notice."

Only there was no further notice. At least not to announce the resuscitation of the pool. Many have since forgotten, or have refused to remember the reluctant closure of that chapter of Guyana's history.

Others still harbour hopes of the pool being revamped.

Seeking pertinent answers regarding the start-up, operation and closure of the pool was, at the beginning, an unanticipated struggle.

But, we only had to indicate our interest to Terrence Maxwell - who lives in the building that housed the canteen at Luckhoo Swimming Pool - and snowballing began.

He gave directions to the work site of his neighbour who occupies the former ticket booth. Although the latter prefers to remain anonymous, he willingly provided information.

While searching for Terrence's uncle, we found George Cumberbatch, a former caretaker at the pool, now Senior Drainage Overseer. He, in turn, singled out John Charles at the Colgrain Pool.

Other M&CC officials and former functionaries also pointed to colleagues, but most of them remained mum.

Only the Town Clerk, Ms. Beula Williams and Public Relations personnel, provided assistance.

M&CC minutes dating back to 1956, which were retrieved from the Council through the National Library were most helpful.

The pool was named after astute lawyer, politician and diplomat, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, who was Mayor of Georgetown in 1955. He was also mayor from 1960-1961

The establishing of a public swimming pool in Georgetown was Sir Luckhoo's extravagant brainchild. Talks for the construction of the pool began in April, 1956.

An area in Kingston that once housed the pond of the Governor of British Guiana was identified for the pool's location. This site is now bordered by the seawall to the north, Pegasus to the east,

Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation Bond to the west and untamed bushes to the south.

From the pool, one could have had a panoramic view of the murky Atlantic and surrounding greenery.

In Sir Lionel's words: "The cooling breezes of the Atlantic kept the surrounding greens cool and fresh and nature herself seems to have contrived to prepare this locality for a setting for an attractive modern first class pool ..."

He mobilised all the human and financial resources necessary for the planning and execution of his scheme.

To this end, he called in technical people from Central Housing and Planning Authority and Engineers from Georgetown Sewerage and Water Commissioners.

He also initiated contacts with lucrative firms, and individuals in a position to make substantial contributions to the construction of the pool. He summoned the media to actively plug the building of the pool in their news coverage. Sir Lionel proposed that the size of the pool conform to international standards and be hygienically operated. He said that there should be constant circulation and purification occurring simultaneously. He wanted the pool to have deep and shallow sections, and be equipped with modern springboards. He also felt that underwater lighting and overhead lighting for night swimming were essential. Moreover, the Mayor advocated the erection of male and female changing rooms and for costumes and sterilised towels to be provided on hire.

In addition, he believed that the activities at the pool could not comfortably go on without the attachment of a bar and refreshment section. A car park was also to be accommodated. His concept for the surrounding area of the pool was more elaborate. He suggested that the lands east of the pool, where Pegasus now stands, be leased as well from the Government.

He envisaged that this plot be laid out for a miniature golf course, hard tennis court, open playing field and an open-air theatre. Setting the cost of his proposed project at $200,000, Sir Lionel reasoned that it was not a sum that the Mayor and City Council could afford.

"I feel, as a result of interviews with the editors and speaking with large interest groups in the city, that we shall be able to raise a very large sum and possibly the whole amount from public subscriptions. "This is the opportunity for the large firms to do something to identify themselves with the country. This will be a positive example of their faith in the colony and their good will to it. "The citizen who may only be able to contribute one dollar or five dollars will be provided with a challenge to create something of national significance," he related. Calling on his evident keen business acumen he put forward to his Councillors other alternatives. He said that were M&CC unable to realise the sum necessary, the Council could borrow the remainder. He rationalised that by running the pool along commercial lines, the M&CC could repay the loan out of profits or make arrangements to repay a certain sum each year.

No `Alice in Wonderland' dream

Sir Lionel felt that building and getting the pool operational was a matter of urgency.

"If we don't move now, I'm afraid that the swimming pool will still be a thought and not an accomplishment years from now." he said.

His civic-mindedness also emanated as he persuaded his colleagues that his plan for the construction of the pool was attainable.

"The desirability of such a move is self-evident. The muddy waters, uninviting as they are, still lure large numbers to take unnecessary risk with treacherous currents, a doubtful pleasure on occasions marred with tragedy. "With the growth of Georgetown, adults - old and young - and thousands of school children can only look longingly at pictures of inviting swimming pools for which they sigh, but seem destined never to see in the colony. "Councillors, we know this city, we know the habits of the people. Leisure time is restricted to a few games. What else is there to do? Relentlessly, the answer seems to keep repeating itself `How about a public swimming pool'," he declared.

While most of the Councillors applauded Sir Lionel's proposition, a few had their doubts.

Councillor D. L. Taitt, although he felt that a considerable sum of the money could be raised by appeal, felt that it should not be spent on "luxury."

He expressed the view that a swimming pool was only going to be for one set of people. He added that it was no point pretending that everybody could afford to pay to swim.

The Mayor retorted that the pool would be of great benefit to all. He noted that the Police had approached him on the matter that some Policemen could not swim and lives were being lost, that there was no place for them to learn to swim and that they had asked the Council to do something.

"This is no Alice in Wonderland dream. This is no figment of idle imagination. This is the verbal announcement of the blue print, which you will see in 10 days," he added.

When Sir Lionel gave up office as Mayor in 1956, an ad hoc committee under his chairmanship was appointed to proceed with the idea.

About a year later, May, 1957, $28,500 was raised and was enough to start preliminary work and clearance of the site.

The resident at the pool ticket booth with whom the Chronicle spoke was a swimming instructor. He also operated the canteen.

He said that a part of Sir Lionel's fundraising drive was a `Mile of Silver' activity. This involved dropping money by the roadside starting from Quamina Street into Main Street across Guyana Stores and into Water Street up to where the Guyana Stores bond is now located.

He said that designated Council workers collected the money from the parapets. Other fundraisers included tea parties, barbecues and steel band parades through the streets of Georgetown. Money was collected along the route of steel band parades.

Always a hive of activity

He said that the pool was opened some time between 1960 and 1962, and it was always a hive of activity.

Sir Lionel reclaimed the Mayor's chair from 1960 -1961.

The three-dimensional pool had two-foot and four-foot sections, and a much larger segment graded from seven to 11 feet. Adults, children and club members utilised the pool during five sessions daily.

These sessions were 07:00 - 09:00 hrs; 09:00 - 11:00 hrs; 12:30 - 13:00 hrs; 13:30 - 16:00; and club sessions, 19:00 - 21:00 hrs. The club sessions involved Penguin, Blue Dolphins and Silver Sharks clubs.

John Charles is a lifeguard who worked at the Luckhoo Swimming Pool for eight years. He has been at the Colgrain Pool on Camp Street for the past 12 years.

"It was really a beautiful pool. Most Saturdays and Sundays it used to be crowded," he recalled.

With obvious nostalgia he said: "I miss it! I miss it a lot!"

Charles started working at the pool at age 20. He was forced to leave after its closure.

He said that three other lifeguards worked with him. Their job was mainly to watch over the people who could not swim to prevent possible misfortunes.

The joy of swimming at the pool was marred by the tragic death of a 12-year-old boy who attempted to move from the four-feet to the seven-foot section of the pool through the rails and got stuck.

Training ground for competitive swimmers

Changing rooms were on the two sides of the pool and living quarters in the middle.

There was a garden outside the eastern wall of the pool. Coconut, mangoes, breadfruit, bananas, jamoon and plum were planted. One of the lifeguards managed the garden, and shared the produce among the staff.

He said that they also made their own cast nets, which they used to fish on the jetty.

Mr. Cumberbatch was a super athlete in his youthful years. He is popularly known as `Boy Blue' for his cycling skills.

Swimming was also his delight. The Luckhoo Swimming Pool became the training ground for competitive swimmers.

He was instrumental in forming the Penguin Swim Club. He said that club members taught lifeguards and swimming instructors with the help of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) Canadian personnel.

The Penguin Club's membership was more than 150 persons and the Club was required to pay M&CC for rental of the pool.

Members were involved in swimming competitions throughout the country and in Trinidad and Suriname.

A former swimmer nostalgically recalled his exploits in the pool. He said that school-children were taken to the pool to swim, and it was imperative to be clad in swimwear to enter the pool.

He said that most boys swam in their underwear, but he and some others had none because their parents could not afford to buy them.

So they took berets of their female classmates, punched two holes for their legs, and used them to swim.

He confessed that their quest for pleasure in the pool led many schoolgirls to tears when they could not find their berets.

Terrence has been living at the pool for eight and a half years. He said that his uncle was a caretaker there and when he decided to remove from the pool, he took up residence in the old canteen.

"The pool was lovely. Water was never stagnant. It was always in circulation. It was really healthy," he remembered.

Then that fateful day came. The pool was closed.

Crack in the pool

Everyone the Sunday Chronicle spoke with agreed that it was a crack along the bottom of the seven-11 feet section of the pool that led to its closure.

However, each person posited different reasons for the crack.

Terrence says that the pool was shut down about 17 years ago. He said that M&CC said that a foundation crack posed a threat to life and limb, because the weight of the water could have caused the walls to cave in unexpectedly.

He, however, believes that the closure of the pool went beyond the crack.

The M&CC then was willing to let the pool go because its operation was not financially viable, he posited. He said that M&CC was responsible for paying four lifeguards, two security officers, two cleaners and two ticket sellers.

`Boy Blue' believes that the vibration from the operation of a well that was put down near to the pool to serve Pegasus and the rest of Kingston aided in the cracking of the pool.

It is his view that the M&CC should not have been looking to profit from the pool operation.

"I think that if any municipality puts on a project like that, it is for the people. They cannot expect to make profits," he said.

Yet another view - this time from the man living in the old ticket booth - was that the grading of the area to build a higher sea defence wall contributed to the cracking of the pool.

John vividly recalled the discovery of the crack at the bottom of the pool.

According to him, a diver, Alfred Mann, who died three years ago, used to dive down to clean the pool with a broom.

As Mann swept the bottom of the seven-11 feet area of the pool, the broom got stuck. Upon closer examination, Mann discovered the crack which ran east to west and was half an inch in diameter.

He said that it was reported to then Mayor, Ms. Mavis Benn.

John said nothing was done and staffers were instructed to "work it (the pool) as long as possible".

About two years later, workmen from the Stone Depot, M&CC, chipped one foot on each side of the crack. They re-laid steel in these areas and re-cast it.

Within two years, the crack reopened.

The pool was closed and the workers relocated to other departments of M&CC.

He said no official announcement about the closure of the pool was made and the media remained quiet.

A sign was positioned outside the pool saying that it will be closed until further notice.

Many persons turned up to swim and had to turn away in disappointment.

The unanswered question is "why no tangible effort has been made to resuscitate the pool?"

A million frogs!

Former Mayor Compton Young said that as Mayor he wanted to resuscitate the pool, but he was advised against it. He said that technical advisors said that Atlantic currents were affecting the pool and even if it was rebuilt or repaired, it would crack again.

He said that the last time he visited it in 1994 there were about "a million frogs" in it.

"So, if you're afraid of frogs don't go," he advised.

But when the Sunday Chronicle team visited last week, instead of frogs, it found fish!

Terrence is breeding about 200 Talapia in the seven-11 feet section of the pool. He says that they are for his subsistence and for sale.

Over the last five years, squatters have quietly moved in and have occupied the area behind the northern wall of the pool.

Terrence described the squatters as "an unambitious group" of unemployed 20-year-olds who do not send their children to school.

He said that is the reason he does not work during the day, because he is afraid that the squatters and other criminal elements would dismantle what remains of the pool.

He sees himself as the pool's guardian. He works as a security guard during the nights at a nearby company.

Terrence said that the M&CC had given the squatters notice in 1999 to remove by 2000.

Both he and his neighbour in the old ticket booth said that they have remained there and shown a sense of commitment because they believe that the pool will be resuscitated.

Terrence has hopes of getting a proper job and his neighbour says he hopes he can resume his swimming-instructing career.

John also thinks that the pool can be overhauled. He says to get the pool alone operational, it will cost about G$8M.

He recommends, among other things, the erection of concrete braces to the northern wall; and the re-tiling of the entire pool. He said the G$8M should also cover the restoration of the pump and water filters.

John does not believe that M&CC ever wanted to give up the pool, yet the reason for ignoring it boggles his mind.

"They just left it there like that and it's a shame," he said.

Terrence's neighbour considered not only the resuscitation of the pool, but also the reconstruction of bathrooms, snackette, ticket booth, and living quarters. He put the cost of such an exercise at about G$160M.

The M&CC has in the past explored the idea of leasing the pool and surrounding area for development, but nothing tangible has come of the attempt.

Terrence and John said that management of LAPARKAN, and private citizens had indicated their interest in refurbishing the pool.

Chairman of LAPARKAN, Mr. Glen Khan, told Sunday Chronicle that in the late 1980s, the company had approached the M&CC with a proposal to rehabilitate the pool and convert the surrounding area into a promenade with revenue-generating activities.

Khan said that the passage of time has dulled his memory in relation to the reasons that M&CC turned down the offer.

Town Clerk, Ms. Beula Williams, in a brief telephone interview, said that the City Council is not in a position to rehabilitate the pool.

M&CC is looking at leasing the pool and surrounding area for private investment, she said.

Ms Williams added that legal steps have to be taken to this end.

In the meantime, a pool that provided for social interaction, entertainment, and athletics, now stands in ruins, its surroundings belying the character of its heyday.