After not being in use for a year, the pool at the Lieutenant Governor’s Residence has been opened for use by various organizations within the state.
The re-opening was announced by the Lieutenant Governor’s office last week and follows Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s announcement last November that he would not be occupying the Fort Indiantown Gap residence. Some say the property should be sold, but for now the pool complex at least is being put to public use.
In preparation for its opening, the 30-by-40 foot pool was updated with an ADA-compliant ramp, safety messaging, pool safety supplies, a lifeguard stand, and more.
Second Lady Gisele Fetterman headed the project and is fielding organizations’ requests to use the pool.
Fetterman hopes the program will help children in traditionally underrepresented groups learn to swim.
“It’s looking at this amenity that was available here and not being used, then looking at a very dark history that we have in this country in regards to racial segregation of pools and working to make some wrongs right,” said Fetterman.
Groups reserving the pool must be nonprofits or organizations that did not traditionally have access to pools and come from within the state. So far, both recurring local reservations and one-time reservations from across the state have been made.
While groups are expected to provide their own transportation and lifeguards, $2,500 has been donated by Make a Splash (a Middle Atlantic Swimming program) to provide lifeguards for groups that cannot afford them.
“Growing up as a young immigrant, I didn’t have pools readily available to me and it’s a life-saving skill that you learn in the pool,” said Fetterman. “We want as many kids to learn to swim and feel safe in the water as we can.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 3,500 drownings a year and African American children have a drowning-death rate three times higher than white children do, a statistic Fetterman is working to counter.
“I want to look at the statistics that we’ve seen in regards to drownings, specifically around children of color and children that wouldn’t otherwise have access and understand that those are numbers that we can have a direct effect on,” said Fetterman.
Requests have already started coming in for reservations – as of Wednesday morning, Fetterman had received requests from five churches, three schools, one LGBTQ+ organization, three nonprofits, and a school district.
An organization for children of incarcerated parents and a foster family group have also reached out about reserving time.
“I’m thrilled to receive calls from the school district, from a historically black church in the region, that’s exactly what we want, these are the folks we want swimming in our pool,” said Fetterman. “We want everyone welcome here, we want everyone to feel welcome here, so the fact that they’re reaching out… they’re being met with a thrilled person on the other end of that line saying, ‘We can’t wait to have you come swim with us.'”
When unused, pools can deteriorate over time. The pool has barely been used since it was first filled last year, another motivator for Fetterman to enact this program.
The Fetterman family does not reside in the Lieutenant Governor’s Residence, or “State House,” the only state-sponsored second-in-command housing in the country. In fact, Wednesday was the first day that the Fetterman children even saw the pool.
“I want anyone in Pennsylvania to know that this is a place for everyone,” said Fetterman. “If my kids can swim in this pool, so should every child in the state. We’re going to do things differently, this is a place for all and I want everyone to feel welcome and safe here.”
Fetterman’s efforts to open up the State House mirror Governor Tom Wolf’s recent use of the Governor’s Residence for increased amounts of public events, as well as public tours open to anyone.
Fetterman hopes that her project will inspire other governmental and private organizations to expand public accessibility.
“I hope this is a model that has other facilities looking at existing resources, seeing how we can make them more accessible to the public,” said Fetterman. “I hope this is the first of many.”
If you would like to reserve the pool for your organization, contact Fetterman at email@example.com.
In the future, Fetterman is planning a prison tour during which she will visit state correctional facilities and meet with staff, inmates and families.