Community group aims to rename Wilson Pool
Ida B. Wells High School may have shed its old name, but the swimming pool at the site never did -- and one group hopes to change that.
A handful of Hillsdale residents wants to see the pool renamed, just as the high school was earlier this year.
Don Baack is spearheading an effort to change the name of the city-owned pool on South Vermont Street.
"With the renaming of the high school to Ida B. Wells-Barnett, it is a good time to pick a community supported name for the 'Wilson Pool,'" Baack said.
He's convened a small group with members from the Hillsdale Neighborhood Association and business association, as well as a member of the Wells High School PTA. The group is looking to add more members.
"It is my hope our Southwest residents can decide for ourselves what we want the new name to be," Baack said.
Baack is already active in several community groups. He founded the hiking group SW Trails PDX and serves on his neighborhood association.
The Wilson Pool is one of 11 community pools maintained by Portland Parks & Recreation. Despite its association and proximity to Wells High School, the pool still bears President Woodrow Wilson's name because it's owned by the parks department, not Portland Public Schools. Wells High School, formerly Wilson High School, chose a new name to better reflect the values and identity of the school and district, noting Wilson's history as a segregationist who praised the Ku Klux Klan. The school board approved the change in January.
While some say it's time to overhaul the pool's name, it's unclear whether the city is ready to take on the task just yet. Portland Parks & Recreation doesn't currently have plans to rename the pool, and has protocols for how names are chosen.
"We have a pretty rigorous parks renaming process," said Tim Collier, community relations manager for PP&R. "It's an effort that takes a long time to be done well and done equitably." Collier said it's not that the city doesn't want the name to change, but the bureau wants to make sure any naming process is done according to city standards, which call for input from a wide cross-section of residents.
According to the city's policy for naming or renaming public spaces, names that honor historic events, people, places, outstanding individuals or donors of major gifts will be considered. It's possible the city could ignore or reject any recommendations brought forth by the community group in Southwest Portland.
The Wilson Pool isn't the only city-owned property under the microscope for its homage to past historical figures.
The former Custer Park -- named after Civil War cavalry commander George Armstrong Custer and located at Southwest Capitol Hill Road and 24th Avenue -- was given a temporary name of A Park until the city can find a more suitable name for the property. While other American cities have paid homage to the U.S. Army officer, his legacy has come into question due to his reputation for massacre of Native Americans.
"There's a city-wide conversation going on," Collier said, noting naming and renaming efforts need to include input from residents across the city, not just the immediate neighborhood. "For us as a bureau, we need to look at these ... whether there is a park or statue or building in your neighborhood, it's the whole city's park."
Even if the city bureau doesn't accept the recommendations of Baack's group, or decides to form a city-commissioned group of its own to rename the pool, Baack said he's pressing on.
"We have over the years led citizen renaming of several trails on Parks property, which they accepted," Baack said. "The committee will develop a plan to get name ideas, advertise for input and communicate the community desired name to Portland Parks."
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