Donation denied: Osawatomie passes on man's money to fix pool

OSAWATOMIE, Kan. - It's rare that a resident offers to donate money to his city -- and it's probably even more uncommon when the city turns down the money.

Osawatomie resident Webster Hawkins was a little bewildered when his city council members recently rejected his $150,000 donation. He wanted to pay for repairs to reopen the the city's public pool.

"I can't even swim," Hawkins joked.

Even so, the 87-year-old former newspaper publisher wanted to make sure families in Osawatomie have a place to take a dip.

The 50-year-old pool did not see a swimmer all last season after the city discovered a huge leaking problem. The city does not have the money to fix the pool, so it was closed.

"I just thought we need it," Hawkins said. "I just thought it would be great for the community, for the adults as well as the kids, for everybody."

Hawkins hoped his money could have the pool open in time for Memorial Day, but last week the city council passed on his offer.

"Sometimes free money is not inexpensive," city manager Don Cawby said.

City council members worried Hawkins' donation would not be enough to completely fix the pool. Cawby said it could actually end up costing the city tens of thousands of additional dollars to make all the necessary repairs.

"We want to make sure that if we're going to put money into that pool, that it's something that'll last several years," Cawby said. "Especially when someone's gifting something to the city, we'd feel a responsibility to make sure that money's used wisely."

Cawby said the city is looking for ways to stretch Hawkins' money, but Hawkins isn't so sure the money will still be there.

"Been turned down once, and I'm not going to get involved in something I don't think can be," Cawby said.

Osawatomie has another pool proposal on the back burner. Plans are drawn up for a new $2.8 million pool, but the city council decided to table the plan for now.

Residents could have voted on the pool earlier this month, but council members decided now was not the right time for the decision.

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