Susan Lang feels like hope is slipping through her fingers.
Her world turned upside down a few years ago, when her son, Michael, suffered a stroke. After several months of living in rehabilitation clinics, he moved back home with his parents.
Each day, they help the 39-year-old walk, get dressed and sit down at the dinner table. But it has taken a physical toll on the couple, who are in their 60s.
In the fall, a health specialist recommended their son try the physical therapy pool at Overland Park’s Matt Ross Community Center.
After a couple months of using it, Michael started walking much better.
By Christmas, the pool was shut down.
“I’m heartbroken,” Lang said.
She’s not the only one.
A group of Johnson County residents are upset and frustrated that the therapy pool has closed. It was the only physical therapy pool open to the public in the Kansas City area.
The HydroWorx pool, which features an underwater treadmill in water heated to 92 degrees, helped soothe a variety of ailments by relieving pressure on aching joints.
Everyone from elderly arthritis sufferers to injured high school athletes signed up for 30-minute sessions each week.
But now the therapy pool is rusting and falling apart and the city can’t afford to maintain it.
Over the past year, the pool had been shut down four times to be repaired, to no avail.
“We could spend thousands of dollars to fix it again, only for it to break again in a few months,” said Jontae Middleton, manager of the community center. “But at this point, it just needs to be replaced. Otherwise, we’re looking at safety issues.”
Replacing the pool would cost an estimated $300,000, he said. Since that kind of money isn’t in the community center’s general budget, it would have to be taken out of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, which is approved by the city council.
Because of the extraordinary cost, city staff is recommending the replacement of the therapy pool with two saunas in the same area.
“We always have members asking us for saunas, so we thought this would be a good chance to give people what they want,” Middleton said. “It’s something new and different for us.”
When the therapy pool was installed in the newly constructed center in 2007, it wasn’t intended primarily for public use, he said.
The city installed it with the belief that an area hospital was going to rent it out, offsetting the high maintenance fees.
The agreement crumbled, however, leaving the community center with the pricey aquatic system and its future costs. The pool was opened up to the public. Since then, just over 100 different people have used it, many on a regular basis.
When its moving parts and computer electronics started to fizzle, despite numerous repairs, the city shut down the pool a couple months ago.
Since the council doesn’t vote on the CIP until March, residents hope they still have time to turn things around.
Many residents have been brainstorming ideas through an e-mail chain and they plan on attending a public hearing on the CIP on March 2 to plead their case to the council.
Lang is desperately seeking out a company to financially sponsor the pool. She’s also researching other aquatic therapy options for her son, if her efforts prove fruitless.
“I’ve spent hours on the computer and I’ve been on the phone trying everything I can to save that pool,” she said. “I’m not just doing this for my son, but for everyone. There are so many people who need that pool.”
Katie Farkes is one of those people.
With two shoulder replacements and two knee replacements, she’s very limited on the physical workouts she can do.
She would even pay extra money, in addition to the community center’s membership fees, to use the aquatic system.
“I can’t swim laps in the pool and cold water is uncomfortable,” she said. “That pool was a godsend.”
Catherine Kinsey, of Merriam, considers the therapy pool the best-kept secret in Johnson County. Like many others, she joined the community center specifically for it.
“There is an aging arthritic population,” she said. “The need for this pool is only going up.”
The pool was a blessing even for the young, said Bill Shanahan of Overland Park. His 17-year-old son has been using the pool for two years since a cross-country injury.
The therapy pool has helped him heal so successfully, the St. Thomas Aquinas junior is thinking about choosing a college that has one.
Like the others, Shanahan hopes the pool’s end is really not near.
But at this point, he knows it’s going to take a lot of persuasion.
“I was shocked and dismayed when it closed down,” he said. “My son and I just wish they’ll change their minds and the pool will get to stay.”