Summer means sun, fun and swimming. And for 96 years, Cincinnatians have been able to find all of it at Coney Island’s Sunlite Pool.
The pool was built in 1925 and initially was surrounded by a sandy beach, which gave way to concrete and grass in the mid-'50s. Now, five generations of Cincinnatians have spent their summers there.
Coney Island has always been a healthy dose of nostalgia, but Sunlite Pool has kept up with the times.
This year, the pool opened with a huge inflatable obstacle course called Challenge Zone that gave even their highly-trained lifeguards fits to complete. And that’s part of the fun.
I visited Sunlite Pool on the day it opened, and there was a line of grade-school kids clamoring to try it out at the opening whistle.
One by one, they attempted to climb the slippery structure and found themselves in the water more than a couple of times.
And that’s what caught my eye. The water: three million gallons of it.
We need to pause right here and really dive into this (pun intended). Anyone who’s tried getting a residential pool ready for the summer knows it’s a total crap shoot. Weird pollen, random animals, too much or too little rain, heat or snow – it can all make opening and balancing a pool an incredibly difficult process.
Sunlite Pool personnel do this on an exponentially larger level. And now, let’s add in a water main break ... at the largest recirculating pool in North America.
Coney Island had to postpone the opening of Sunlite Pool this year because of a leak that cropped up just days before its traditional Memorial Day weekend opening. This is after pool was filled, sanitized and ready for swimmers.
“We had to drain the pool pretty significantly. We had to get it to a point where we could see the leak,” explained Marley Wallace, assistant brand manager at Coney Island. “We had to find the leak, fix it, refill it and re-sanitize. So it took about 10 days to do all of that.”
I fight with the small, '70s-era pool in our yard every year; balancing the chemicals and pulling random vermin out of the filter. This year was a doozy. So far, we’ve totaled two frogs, two mice, dozens of lizards and hundreds and hundreds of cicadas. I just pulled out a pool filter basket that was so full of cicadas it looked like a shrimp boil.
That’s one thing Coney Island Park doesn’t have to worry about. “No, we don't have a cicada issue at all because we do flood in the offseason – all the groundwater kind of washes them out,” Marley pointed out. Who would have thought flooding would be a benefit?
But the water main break was a whole different problem. It sent staffers back to square one: refilling and re-balancing – and scrambling to get it done as quickly as possible.
“Our team was working night and day to get it all fixed,” Marley said. Water trucks were brought in. Concrete had to be reset after they got access to the break.
“It takes about three days to fill the pool completely and then three more days to sanitize and balance the chemicals and make sure it's all ready for guests to go,” she said. Drained, fixed, filled and sanitized ... and ready to go in 10 days.
And on day one, you wouldn’t know the scramble behind the scenes. You saw happy kids splashing their friends, lifeguards twirling their whistles, parents finding shade under an umbrella. Those same scenes have been playing out in some form for almost a century, through wars, recessions and a pandemic. A water main break didn’t stand a chance.
Armed with pool snacks and a floppy hat, Kathrine can be seen on Coffee Break with Kathrine, weekday mornings at 10 a.m. on The Enquirer's Facebook page. You can also sign up to receive her weekly e-newsletter at cincinnati.com/newsletters.