What’s in the Water?

Residents Raise Major Concerns about Conditions at Hennigan Community Center

When Phyllis Petruzzelli and many of the other female swimmers that utilize the Hennigan Pool and Community Center on Heath Street at the Mission Hill/JP border come to participate in their bi-weekly class, they don’t begin the night by warming up or getting dressed.

     Typically, the first thing they do is inspect the locker rooms and hallways for cleanliness. The pre-class ritual has been going on so long that it has almost become a joke for the women, were it not so frustrating as well.

     Is the large hairball still in the shower?

     Is that brown smudge of “something” still on the lockers?

     Will there be toilet paper in the stalls that day, or as is usually the case, not?

     Swimming, in fact, has become the last thing on their minds as they put on wet suits and tennis shoes to protect themselves from the increasingly dirty water and rough surfaces in the pool. The conditions have been an ongoing issue for the women and others using the Pool and the Center, run by the Boston Center for Youth and Families (BCYF) and the Boston Public Schools (BPS). For years now, they said, they’ve been complaining, but only recently when the Gazette began looking into the matter did they start getting any substantive response.

     “There’s no reason that week after week after week there are the same hairballs sitting all over the showers,” she said during an interview on site this month. “They cleaned up a little bit this week, but I went and looked to see if they got the hairballs. They didn’t. Still there.”

     Nancy Routh shared a similar story, noting that a giant brown smudge had been on the lockers for more than a year. Often, if it looks like some cleaning has been done, she checks to see if they’ve tackled the smudge. So far, she said, it persists.

     Petruzzelli, Routh, Debra McLellan, Gina White, Luisa Harris, Perlina Mills and Claudine Francois are part of the group that regularly comes to the Hennigan Pool for swim classes with a popular teacher that instructs all over the city – including at nearby facilities like the Mason Pool in Roxbury and the Curtis Hall Pool on Centre Street.

     “It’s a hidden gem here, but it’s a diamond that’s definitely in the rough,” said Mills. “This is a great time to put some effort into this place. The economy is good and money is coming into the City. Now is the time to get something. We really don’t want everything, or a new Center, just some basic cleanliness.”

     Routh and the other swimmers said they are particularly disturbed by the Hennigan because they go to the Mason and Curtis Hall, and both facilities are far better than the Hennigan.

     “I’ve been coming here for years and I go to other community centers as well,” Routh said. “There is a big difference here. There is so much litter all the time. There are four showers that don’t work. There’s never paper towels or basic things, many times there’s not even toilet paper…When you are in the pool and at eye level you can see all the filthy dirt on the deck and the pool isn’t much better either. Never mind that the toys are always thrown in the water and in the way.”

     Added Petruzzelli, “I can’t understand why everything is lax here, but not at Curtis Hall or Mason Pool.”

     Said McLellan, “I was appalled there was no response to major issues that were here and we brought up. It’s been going on for a long time. We didn’t just start talking about it. It’s really concerning to me that (BCYF) Commissioner (Will) Morales or whoever is responsible isn’t addressing it.”

     At the pool, the women say they’ve been wearing wet suits and tennis shoes while in the pool for protection from the water and the neglected pool floor. The lifeguard chair is unused, as it apparently has been broken for a year. The lifeguards at the pool sit in an old office chair with wheels. None of it seems set up for a high-class user experience.

     Security is also an issue.

     Lighting on the outside is frequently missing or not operating, creating very dark and isolated corridors for people to exit to as they leave the Center. Also, the ID scanner hasn’t worked for some time, and many people seem to enter through a back, emergency exit door that is supposed to be locked.

     When the Gazette was there, a lifeguard asked the women to prop the back door open so a food delivery driver could get into the pool area. That driver arrived, came in the door and delivered the food to the lifeguard, who ate a sub poolside.

     No one monitored the delivery man’s activities after he made the delivery, and he could have gone virtually anywhere afterward without supervision or detection – including the women’s locker rooms or a large youth basketball game going on next to the pool.

     “Security is definitely an issue for us and the kids,” said Harris. “One thing for me is there is no supervision. Someone could come snatch a kid and no one would know for quite some time…We used to have the ID scanner, but it broke and they don’t seem to want to fix it.”

     Harris and others said they really believe the massive Center could be a huge resource were it taken care of properly and made into the resource it should be.

     “More people would come, but they don’t because it’s filthy,” she said. “I have neighbors who came once, but they won’t come again. It’s a shame because this place could be buzzing with activity. There is so much potential here.”

     None of the women said they blame the local director, Martha Salamanca, noting that she tries very hard but doesn’t seem to have central office support.

     Instead, with the help of Councilor Matt O’Malley, they have focused their attention on the higher ups at BCYF and the Boston Public Schools. Numerous e-mails back and forth have produced no results. However, they did report in the days after the Gazette interview that they were able to set up some meetings to address their concerns.

     The Gazette contacted the City, who had the Boston Public Schools issue a statement. BPS said they partner with the City’s BCYF to try to offer a great experience at the Hennigan and noted that there has been investment in the facility over the last several years.

            “The Boston Public Schools works closely with Boston Centers for Youth & Families and our City partners to address any issues within our shared community centers as they arise,” read the statement. “Over the last several years, BPS replaced pool heating, ventilation and dehumidification systems and performed upgrades to the locker rooms at the BCYF Hennigan Community Center. We will continue working collaboratively to make sure our facilities are clean, sufficiently stocked, well-maintained and secure for all our students, families, and community members.”

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