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Community pools pull in the people

Even residents with pools at home, but especially those without, enjoy them.

By JANET ZINK
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 26, 2002


HUNTER'S GREEN -- It's Sunday afternoon at the West Meadows community center pool, and with the temperature climbing to the mid 80s, the pool is as busy as it's been all year.

There's a birthday party under the gazebo. Kids line up to take turns on the slide that winds down from a two-story platform. Moms and toddlers soak in the kiddie pool, and ambitious adults swim laps in the racing lanes.

The scene repeats itself daily at West Meadows, Heritage Harbour and other master-planned communities in the suburbs of Tampa.

All this splashing raises a question: Why bother with a backyard pool?

"I work late hours, and the community pool is not always open," says Mark Ellam, lounging poolside with his wife, Lisa, at the West Meadows community center.

They don't often make the trek here, but their two sons, ages 10 and 11, like the slide and enjoy seeing friends.

The pool at home, though, is much more convenient.

Mark likes taking a late-night dip, which isn't possible at the West Meadows pool because it closes at dusk. Plus, the pool at their house is screened in, which keeps mosquitoes away after dark. And there's nothing better than a summer barbecue by the pool.

Other West Meadows residents are not convinced of the value of a pool at home.

Tanya Williams, leasing a home in West Meadows, says when it comes time to buy, she expects to skip the backyard pool. She doesn't want to deal with the expense and bother of maintaining one. But the community pool is a big draw.

"It's a real advantage to living here," she says. "That's why we're renting here."

Her sons, ages 6, 10 and 15, love the big slide.

Michelle Dixon -- the mom staging the poolside birthday party for her 7-year-old son, Cameron -- skipped the backyard pool, too, swayed by safety issues when her family moved into West Meadows. She has a 2-year-old daughter. The idea of a backyard pool was just too scary.

Katina Anderson waited six years before installing a pool behind her home in Westchase.

"The girls didn't know how to swim at all, so we didn't want to have anything to do with the pool until we were comfortable with them swimming," she says.

She made a promised to Brianna, 7, and Selena, 10: Once they learned to swim, they'd get a pool. Last year, the girls took swimming lessons, and Anderson had to deliver.

"It's a lot more convenient to have a pool here," she says.

In the past, she'd have to lug towels, toys, snacks and drinks to the community pool, only to stay for a few hours. Now, the girls are in and out all day. She also likes that she can host as many friends and family members as she likes in her pool at home.

"You're limited to two guests at the community pool," she says.

Of course, now her home has become the gathering spot for the neighborhood children. Ellam says he's experiencing the same phenomenon.

"Our pool's like a magnet," he says. "After school we've got eight, 10 kids in the pool."

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