40 Incredible Years
It’s probably not too much of an exaggeration to say that without the Shapiro Aquatics Park, there might not even be a Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC. The two institutions have been intertwined from the very beginning. In fact, the first outdoor pool in the Aquatics Park was actually built in 1977, one year before the rest of the JCC opened. In the ensuing 40 years, the Aquatics Park has been essential to growing the JCC’s membership, giving people some of their first jobs, and showcasing its commitment to fitness and families.
Ilene Heneson was with the JCC’s Teen Advisory Board when The Associated, the Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, decided to build a new JCC in Owings Mills and what at the time was known as the Shapiro Recreation Park. There certainly were other reasons why The Associated decided to build a new JCC besides a new pool; at the time, many Jewish families were leaving Baltimore for suburbs like Randallstown and Owings Mills. But, Heneson said, the attraction of having enough room to build an outdoor pool and bring in more members year-round played no small part in the decision as well.
“You look at what’s going to draw people,” Heneson said. “Baltimore, just like a lot of the East Coast, has a relatively short summer season. So the appeal of having some place that’s open and available during the summer and that is more than just a pool…that’s a drawing card.”
Another way the Aquatics Park has made an impact for the JCC is by giving many of its teenage members their first summer jobs. One of those early members was Amy Schwartz, now the JCC’s Senior Fitness and Wellness Director, who started working the checkpoint at the Aquatics Park when she was in high school, partly, she said, because most of her friends were hanging out there already.
“Everybody I knew was a JCC member at the time,” Schwartz said. “When the JCC opened, everybody came out here. So all of my friends belonged here and I had a really good friend who was also working at the checkpoint. And so it was just so much fun because everybody I knew was here so how could that be bad?”
For all the Aquatics Park’s longevity, much of its success has been due to its ability to change to meet JCC members’ needs. That’s been particularly true in the 12 years since Bill Kirkner took over as the JCC’s Senior Aquatics Director. During Kirkner’s time here, the JCC has taken out one of the baby pools and replaced it with a splash pad and completely replaced the deck, benches, and stairs, among other changes.
Kirkner said many of those changes, including upcoming plans to add a ramp for wheelchair users and parents with strollers, have been made especially with young families in mind.
“The Aquatics Park remains arguably the single largest differentiator between us and other health clubs”, Kirkner said.
As for what comes next for the Aquatics Park, Kirkner said its future growth is likely to be somewhat different from many of its recent changes simply because there’s less physical space to expand now.
“I think the next step over the next couple of years is to develop more programs for young teens,” Kirkner said. Some of that may include more off-campus programs like boating and scuba classes as well as developing junior lifeguard programs. But regardless of what specific additions the Aquatics Park makes, the goal is continue offering as many different services as possible to as many different types of people as possible.