Three pools in downtown Lisbon - São Vicente, Arroios and Casal Vistoso - have been closed since at least last year. Tired of not having answers and especially no solutions, a group of people decided to start a protest.
Under the slogan "Swimming Pools, Now!", several dozen people gathered on Thursday afternoon, at the Largo da Graça, to meet to demonstrate against the closure of three swimming pools in downtown Lisbon. The municipal pools of São Vicente, Arroios and Casal Vistoso are closed since, at least, 2022 and with no prediction of reopening. In the city center, there is only one equipment open and, therefore, it is overloaded: the Penha de França pool.
"We are citizens, users of municipal pools, children, mothers and fathers of users, educators and residents concerned about the future of our neighborhoods. We are outraged by the closure of the three municipal pools that serve the local population in our areas of residence: the São Vicente Municipal Swimming Pool will close in November 2022, the Arroios pool in August 2022, and the Casal Vistoso pool in 2020. There is no forecast for opening, nor any prediction of when (and if) construction will begin. Time passes and nothing happens!"- manifesto "Pools, Now!"
The "Piscinas, Já" movement started with a group of parents and users of the São Vicente pool, which was closed overnight last year. In a notice posted at the entrance to the St. Vincent pool, dated November 4, 2022, it reads only that, "in the course of a technical survey" to the equipment, "damage was detected in structural elements". "Therefore, to safeguard the safety of users, a decision has been made to immediately close the St. Vincent's Swimming Pool with effect from 5 p.m. on November 4."you can read. "The reopening of the Pool will be communicated in a timely manner."
"When the pool closed, we went to ask the officials at the St. Vincent Council what was going to happen, if there was going to be construction. They told us yes, but they didn't know when. Meanwhile, the months went by.says Chiara Moneta, mother of two children who used to take swimming lessons in that sports and leisure equipment. "We've never had any point of situation from the Council or the Chamber about the swimming pool. And we decided to get together. We also realized that there were other closed pools here in the area, the one in Arroios and the one in Casal Vistoso, and we launched this joint protest so that the City Hall or the Councils would do something.”
The demonstration was called for through social networks and posters scattered throughout the various parishes. In Largo da Graça, several fathers and mothers gathered, who brought their children with them. While the adults echoed words of displeasure, the little ones entertained themselves painting posters and other games.
Chiara says that when she started to publicize the demonstration, she received a communication from the São Vicente parish council explaining the situation. "And the situation is that in those eight months they have done practically nothing. Now it's summer, it's hotter, the pools are closed, but nothing happens."Chiara, spokesperson for the self-styled Commission of Friends of Lisbon Pools and one of the organizers of the protest, laments. In this hottest season, the pools can be truly climate refuges.
According to the Board, another technical visit to the pool facilities was made as recently as November of last year to confirm the "risk of failure of structural elements in iron" and the closure of the space, until they are "urgently" conservation and structural reinforcement works were carried out. "The intervention required for the conservation and structural reinforcement works was assumed by CML, starting with a survey and diagnosis process of the structural performance and the respective reinforcement project or new structure. After the steps and deadlines inherent to public procurement procedures, CML / Municipal Directorate of Maintenance and Conservation is currently carrying out the aforementioned contract, with an estimated deadline until the end of July 2023. This process will be followed by the launching, as a matter of urgency, of a contract for the execution of reinforcement works to allow the reopening of the pool".said the Board.
"At this moment it is not possible to establish objectively the global time period inherent to the procedure and execution of the conservation and structural reinforcement works contract. But given the minimum timeframes required, it does not seem possible that the São Vicente Swimming Pool will resume its normal operation before the end of 2023.The Council concluded, explaining that they are also working on improving the energy efficiency of the pool building, with the replacement of the lighting and the installation of photovoltaic panels to produce their own energy.
Chiara Moneta complains that the pool in Penha de França cannot meet the demand and says that swimming classes are sold out. Nádia Grande, also a promoter of the demonstration and mother of two little girls, says that she has been able to use that pool on a free basis, opting for times that she knows are less demanded; but for her daughters, she hasn't found a solution. "The Penha pool doesn't have any spots available for students. They close the pools but they also don't offer any other alternative, there are no alternatives nearby. What I think is fundamental here is to guarantee, in the case of children, that they have the opportunity to learn to swim. We have the three closest pools closed and logistically it's not possible for us to be driving across town to get to another pool that has openings.", regrets. "It's unacceptable that we've had these pools closed for so long and that there's no decision made on the matter, that at least points us in a direction that the pools are actually going to be reopened at some point."
Chiara and Nádia, the closed pools harm the schools that exist in the area and that, during the school year, give swimming lessons in those equipments. "There is a school that is right next to the St. Vincent Pool. The kids in school hours would go there to take swimming lessons. It was right next door.Nádia explains, adding that the alternative for these schoolchildren was to go by bus to a swimming pool in Benfica. "At least they came up with a solution, which I think is great. But it doesn't make sense that there isn't a plan where they tell us that the construction work is actually moving forward or what the problem is that's really preventing the pool from being open."
"Not to mention the senior population, which I think is also super important to be mentioned in this equation." This is the case of Odete Cruz, who used the Arroios pool before it was closed again in August 2022. The equipment had been remodeled in 2016 with extensive works that put a cover on the then outdoor pool. But two years later, in 2018, it closed again after a technical failure was identified in the pool's tank. It reopened to the public in September 2021, the day before the elections. But "last August 2022, and following regular maintenance works, our teams detected serious problems"as "water leaks from the bottom of the pool, air bubbles and deformations in the pool fabric, poor functioning of the humidity extraction and air renewal system, which is a violation of health standards, and slippery floor areas, not adapted to the practice of swimming, in certain places".explained Madalena Natividade, President of the Arroios Council, in a video published last year. "We were forced to close the pool and immediately contact the company that performed the work to find out how it is possible that the work was delivered this way."
This whole tangle of problems is not surprising to Odete. "I've lived here since 2004 and was a user of the Arroios pool for a long time. It always had problems due to the mismanagement of the Junta de Freguesia. I went to the public sessions of the Parish Assembly to complain, but the problem was never solved"he says. "It turned out that because of the poor management that the pool always had, the water was always cold and there were always works on the pool, but they were never in-depth works, they were facade works." Odete regrets the closing of the pool and says "nobody is held responsible for mismanagement. He changed the management of the Junta with the promise that things were going to change, but everything is the same with this new President, who is very good-natured style, very smiling".
Odete moved to the Casal Vistoso pool, but is now at the Penha pool because the other closed in 2020 due to "a set of pathologies that prevent its immediate use", revealed the Lisbon City Council to Público newspaper. During these three years, the Municipal Maintenance and Conservation Department has been working on solving part of the problems. "The City Council has ready a contract to correct more serious pathologies identified in the hot and cold water networks of the pavilion and the pool"but the population will have to wait until the second quarter of 2024 to return to that pool.
The Commission of Friends of Lisbon's Swimming Pools started, in Largo da Graça, to collect interested parties for a petition, in order to extend the fight and to make it reach the Municipal Assembly. "We don't want history to repeat itself and have happen to these pools what happened to the Penha de França pool, which was closed for 10 years without any public entity taking responsibility"says the group. Those interested in this protest you can continue to follow him through his profile @piscinasja2023 on the Instagram platform and e-mail [email protected].