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Legion Pool Is Closing Again

Credit: Dagmar Nelson

Like many amenities in Athens, Legion Pool—a large outdoor pool on Lumpkin Street—was closed last year because of COVID-19. Elsewhere on the University of Georgia campus, the pools and other facilities in the Ramsey Student Center have remained open since last August and will continue to be open this summer. Legion Pool, however, will be closed for 2021. 

According to a Department of Student Affairs website: “When considering current Centers for Disease Control and Department of Public Health Guidelines, the persisting numbers of positive COVID-19 infections, as well as the uncertainty of when the pandemic will be sufficiently controlled for us to safely return to normal operations, we have determined Legion Pool will remain closed for the 2021 summer season.”

A CDC website on aquatic resources offers tips for operating public pools safely. These include having patrons wear face masks when they aren’t in water; keeping swimmers 6 feet apart; spacing lounge chairs at least 6 feet apart and other suggestions. Athens-Clarke County is planning to open its outdoor pools this summer.

A petition is circulating online to convince UGA officials to open Legion this summer. By then, proponents say, most adults will have been vaccinated. Gov. Brian Kemp said last week that all Georgians 16 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine, which will further increase the number of those inoculated.

The possibility of not having a summertime community gathering place is all too familiar for Sara Baker, who learned to swim in Legion Pool. She spearheaded a 2012 campaign to save Legion Pool when it was left out of the university’s master plan showing the proposed Bolton Dining Hall. At the time, there was some movement to do an inventory of UGA’s historic resources on campus, which the university completed in 2018

Designed by native Athenian architect C. Wilmer Heery, Legion Pool opened in 1936. The recreation department in the City of Athens managed and operated the pool following an agreement with American Legion Post 20, which was behind the pool’s creation. In 1952, UGA offered to buy both Legion Pool and the land surrounding it, now known as Legion Field. According to the Save Legion Pool website, Superior Court Judge Henry West “noted that Legion was ‘one of the largest outdoor pools in the South,’ and that it was in ‘more or less the nature of a trust,’ built to serve the citizens of Athens.”

Faculty, staff and community members aren’t the only ones enjoying Legion Pool, Baker said. Children attending the Extra Special People summer programs have been using the pool for almost 20 years, as have those participating in summer camps at UGA. With study abroad not an option this summer, she wondered if there will be more students on campus and whether they will choose to swim at Legion Pool. Does the university even market the pool to students? 

“It’s totally irrational not to open an outdoor pool,” Baker said. “People will follow the CDC guidelines. It’s much safer than an indoor pool, which UGA is planning to keep open. This is a community resource used by both town and gown.”

The article has been updated to reflect that UGA has released a study of historic resources.

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