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Roland Park Pool makes big splash during summer

The first time we met Emily Zappulla, she was dragging her children, William, 4, and Katelyn, 1, to the Eddie's of Roland Park grocery store on Roland Avenue on a sled after a snow storm in February.

"Fun for them, a lot of work for Mommy," she said then.

Last week, Zappulla turned up again with her children, this time in bathing suits at the Roland Park Swimming Pool on her 40th birthday, after a more relaxing and warmer walk from their home on nearby Wilmslow Road.

"We're here for the summer," said Zappulla, a public school psychologist who gets the season off. "It's the best parenting opportunity of the summer."

In its sixth decade, the venerable nonprofit members' pool, located past the Wyndhurst Station shopping center at the dead end of Lawndale Road, is still making a splash with north Baltimore families, even with a one-time initiation fee of $500 and another $495 a year in dues, plus a "nanny fee" of $100 for the summer. That's comparable to fees that other area pools charge, said Kim Mudge, general manager of the pool during the summer and a teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic School during the rest of the year.

"My husband figured out you have to go 12 times to make it worth it," said Zappulla , who has far exceeded that number.

The Roland Park Pool, built in 1956, is actually three pools, the main, L-shaped pool with a diving board; the wading pool and a lap pool. But collectively, it's more than a pool. It's also a summer state of mind with a $156,000 annual budget and something for everyone, from movies and picnics to swimming lessons and summer jobs for lifeguards and concession stand workers as young as 14.

It's also a popular daily (and sometimes twice a day) destination for children in a summer camp at Friends School, which owns the land and leases it to Roland Park Swimming Pool, Inc., on a 100-year lease with more than 40 years remaining on the lease.

"The kids love it. It's definitely a highlight of camp," said Friends School camp lifeguard Ethan Tobin, 19, of Mount Washington, who attends the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.

With 446 members as of June 1, the pool retains its neighborhood vibe.

"I like that it's a community pool," said Elena DiPietro, president of the board for the past five years and a member since 1990. "You see your neighbors. It's low-key and fun, It's walkable and kids can ride their bikes there."

The Eddie's store is a short walk away through the Stony Run for lunch or picnic items, and announcements of pizza deliveries often come over the public address system.

It's also been safe through the years, although the young lifeguards, both for the pool and for the Friends camp, are vigilant.

"I scan the water and make sure there are no kids at the bottom," said Rob Friedman, 15, of the Evergreen neighborhood in Roland Park.

"I had to save somebody last year," a boy who jumped off the diving board, said Julia McCarthy, 16, of Hampden, a rising junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute.

Running the day-to-day operations at the pool is Mudge, the sister of former Maryland First Lady Kendel Ehrlich. She oversees lifeguards and "creamers," who sell ice cream. She can tell you about the old guard, like City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke's children and the Stanwick lacrosse boys, all of whom "guarded" there, she said.

Mudge, who worked her way up from assistant manager, said she's the perfect manager, "because I can work three months of the year. The job is suited to someone who's either retired or a teacher."

The pool has had its problems. It's in a flood-prone area and a large trash receptacle once floated into the Stony Run as water backed up to the pool property fence line, Mudge said.

Some parents chafe at a ban on children under 2 in the main pool.

And the aging pool can be a maintenance challenge, although it was upgraded in recent years, including a handicapped-accessible bathroom being built above the pump house and the main pool being replastered, a roughly $40,000 job, Mudge and DiPietro said.

Mudge also pointed to evidence of a lightning strike in the trees overlooking the pool.

"It can be dangerous," she said, adding that her job is "making sure the place is safe and that people enjoy it and are comfortable."

Teka Ayers, of Catonsville, said she was enjoying her first time at the pool, with her stepson's daughter, Kaya, 2, who grew tired of the wading pool and pleaded, "I'm ready to go to the big pool."

"I love old pools," Ayers said. "I grew up going to neighborhood pools in Arizona."

Zappulla cheered as her son William jumped, or rather was gently tossed by a lifeguard, into the main pool as part of his swimming lesson.

But for her, even the pool had its limits.

"It's been Mommy day care the past few weeks," she said "I'm definitely read for a vacation."

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