But go ahead and use the pool ...

Because the health department's on the case.

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click to enlarge CITY WATER: The North Shore pool in downtown St. Petersburg. - Marina Williams
Marina Williams
CITY WATER: The North Shore pool in downtown St. Petersburg.

If you're as paranoid as the aquaphobes on the preceding pages, your fear embraces man-made as well as natural bodies of water. When you go to a swimming pool, you don't worry about just the sweltering heat or your neighbor quietly urinating in the deep end. You're thinking disease-causing organisms bred in response to a lack of chlorine, too much chlorine or problems with flow meters and filtration. You're obsessing about West Nile virus, malaria, Rift Valley fever and various forms of encephalitis borne by mosquitoes. And then there's always the chance you'll slip or drown. (According to estimates from the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 100,000 people in the U.S. are injured in or near pools every year. But you probably knew that already, you worrywart.)

Calm down. The Pinellas and Hillsborough County health departments inspect public pools at least twice a year. In Hillsborough, the county also requires that all private swimming pools be enclosed with a 4-foot fence, equipped with self-closing, self-latching gates to protect youngsters. If violators do not comply with such stipulations in a timely manner, the case is forwarded to the county's Code Enforcement Board or Special Magistrate. Anyone found guilty at these hearings faces a fine of up to $1,000 for each day the violation continues.

So you see? You're safe, more or less. Or at least someone's watching out for you.

And it would be a shame to let your pool-o-phobic tendencies keep you away from the area's best public swimming holes. Take, for instance, the Olympic-sized Bobby Hicks Pool at 4120 W. Mango Ave., next to Robinson High School in Tampa. Between fitness swimming and aqua aerobics for senior citizens, Bobby Hicks is a major hub of aquatic refreshment. It's so popular, in fact, that in 2005 patrons petitioned to keep the pool open year-round. But city officials said the natural gas necessary to heat the pool would cost a whopping $16,000 a month.

This season's opening day isn't far away, though. The Hicks pool, along with several others, opens on May 17, joining four Hillsborough pools that are already open. Some (including the brand new Cyrus Green Pool at 2007 MLK Jr. Blvd.) will open June 8.

Pinellas' population centers boast numerous public pools, with eight in St. Petersburg alone — such as North Shore, beautifully situated on the bay. All of St. Pete's pools are seasonal; they open on May 24. In North Pinellas, there are two public pools that are particularly notable. The Doyle Center for Aquatics at the Long Center, open year-round, boasts a huge 11-foot-deep lap-pool with 10 lanes and two diving boards, all encapsulated in an impressive turquoise glass box visible from the road.

Morningside Pool at Morningside Recreation Center is part of an older, upper-middle-class neighborhood at the heart of Clearwater. The rich community feeling carries over to the pool, which is filled with kids on Saturday afternoons. Toddlers enjoy the giant mushroom waterfall and the plastic dinosaurs that spit water. There are also two diving boards where prepubescent boys invent new dives in midair, attracting scolds for rambunctious behavior from the attentive lifeguard.

Like we said, there's always someone watching out for you at a public pool.

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