Well, not exactly. But close. Westbrook almost just paved over its former outdoor pool and put up an ice rink.

Thankfully, wisdom prevailed on July 3 when the City Council voted unanimously against the city administration’s poorly-vetted and wasteful $250,000 idea. The proposal is made even more laughable, in this hottest and most humid stretch of 2023 thus far, knowing that the current city administration also effectively killed a planned/approved community waterpark/splashpad project for that area.

Wait – you say you didn’t even know the outdoor pool had been removed?

Well, you wouldn’t be alone in feeling uninformed about the project. Especially if you had been engaged with the tremendously-challenging three-year community effort that finally paid off in 2019 with federal grant funding for upgrades to the entire (Cornelia) Warren Outdoor Rec Area, including a waterpark/splashpad. Since then, the city administration has been anything but publicly-engaging. In fact – the city has held all of one dedicated public outreach meeting om the last four years about the project.

The June 1, 2020, meeting, which sadly in itself was poorly conceived, mysteriously created a “pool vs. splashpad/waterpark” debate, which had not been the intention of the original grant planners. Consequently, the public was misled during that meeting, being promised (rather inappropriately – as the original project planners weren’t even invited to help guide the meeting discussions) one of two options with the acquired funding: either an upgrade to the existing outdoor pool or replacing it with a water park (aka “splashpad/park).”

In the end, Westbrook received neither.


And along the way, the city administration completely ignored hundreds of hours of prior community planning efforts including from two previous administrations; locally-matching funders, including the Cornelia Warren Community Association and the Westbrook Recreation & Conservation Commission; a 2016 public survey yielding 73% support for a waterpark/splashpad; and even 62 letters of city, school, business, political and citizen support of the project. One letter from then-City Councilor Michael Foley stated the proposed improvements,  including the addition of a waterpark/splashpad, were “consistent with many city plans,” and that planners “showed true leadership in their efforts to develop diverse collaborations and support within the community for this funding.” In another letter of support, longtime community volunteer Colonel Robert Barton stated “In my many years in Westbrook I have never seen such an all-encompassing community effort such as this Warren rec proposal.”

Community engagement has appeared to fail miserably since it was at an all time high in 2019 when the federal funding for the outdoor rec area was approved. So miserably, that when the city’s own Recreation & Conservation Commission didn’t support the city’s recent poorly-vetted ice rink idea, the city administration – with zero community engagement or engagement with federal grant officials required for such amenity changes – tried to quickly and quietly force the ice rink through a July 3 City Council vote anyway. Fortunately, the council – supported by a few angry members of the commission and the public itself – was not fooled.

Unfortunately, this recent example of a deeply concerned and spirited community pushback against current city administration’s poor planning and lack of community collaboration has been the exception these days. The results of a general lack of public engagement have become clear as July temperatures soar: not only has a pool been lost, but a twice-council-approved waterpark/splashpad project has been lost as well, with  many questions left unanswered. Remind me where our families without access to residential pools will now be cooling off during the increasingly hot summers?

These missteps follow other community-engagement blunders. The recent unexciting expansion of the Westbrook Dog Park comes to mind,  executed behind City Hall’s closed doors and ignoring a broader community effort in 2019 which had been approved by the former administration and council and supported by Idexx and the Animal Refuge League. And  just wait until upcoming city plans come to light to remove and develop most of the remaining downtown municipal parking lots in order to quickly and quietly raise funds to make up for the city’s recent record-setting tax hike and struggling projects, including that of the financially-challenged Vertical Harvest. Anyone else miss the old CVS parking lot, yet?

With temperatures soaring this week to their highest in 2023, Joni Mitchell’s famous 1970 song lyrics sadly remind us that “You don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.” With the outdoor pool now gone, no replacement for it in sight, and an approved and funded waterpark/splashpad killed due to the city’s poor community engagement – don’t let the most important thing in Westbrook also disappear, as well.

Your voice.

Philip D. Spiller, Jr.

Former member, Westbrook Recreation & Conservation Commission,  and  former president, Discover Downtown Westbrook 

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