With $120 million, just under the amount a task force recommended for Austin’s aquatic system, the Parks and Recreation Department could keep all the swimming pools in the city functioning, plus add four, city staffers said in a memo this week.
With half that amount of money, the department would replace all six pools at imminent risk of closure, with only short-term closures as some fail before construction could occur.
But the department is only expected to receive a maximum of $33 million for aquatics — the amount it requested — from a bond package to potentially go to voters in November.
With that amount, the department would build a new pool at Colony Park in Northeast Austin, which does not have any pools, and repair Givens pool in East Austin and Mabel Davis pools in Southeast Austin. That would leave four pools most in “critical” danger of failure: Northwest, Gillis in South Austin, Civitan in East Austin and Montopolis in Southeast Austin.
“It is likely that any pool (ranked critical), for which the department cannot properly address renovations and upgrades, will eventually have a failure of some sort,” staff wrote in the memo. “Closures may be required.”
The Parks and Recreation Department staff issued the memo Tuesday, in response to a request from Rick Cofer, a Parks and Recreation Board member who has raised concerns about potential pool closures. It provides the most specific information so far on which pools might survive or not under different funding scenarios.
“If the aquatics bond is funded at less than $60 million, swimming pools will be closed,” Cofer said Thursday. “And soon.”
Under the staff’s analysis, with $33 million, $23 million would go to Colony Park, Givens and Mabel Davis. That would leave $10 million for “the most significant and cost-effective renovations.” That would mean doing any repairs possible to keep the pools operational, but not replacing them completely if they fail, said Jodi Jay, the city’s aquatic program manager.
Austin has a large system of neighborhood pools, mostly in the central part of the city. Most are well past their lifespan, with an average age over 50 years.
An aquatics master plan completed last year estimated it would cost $48.6 million just to keep existing pools from failing, $135.8 million to upgrade them and $57.6 million to build five new pools in underserved areas of the city. The report ranked 14 pools as poorly suited to repairs and expansion — a different ranking than the 2014 “critical” list.
The master plan recommended closing an unspecified 10 pools, sparking backlash from the Parks and Recreation Board and concerns that the plan would set up an aquatic “Hunger Games.”
The board requested a task force review the master plan. It emerged with a recommendation that any 2018 bond election include $124 million for aquatics.
A bond task force has been weighing competing requests in order to recommend a package to send to voters in November. Last month, it recommended splitting any bond funding among stormwater improvements, parks/open space, facilities improvements, affordable housing and transportation.
It recommended designating up to $97 million to the Parks and Recreation Department, including $33 million for swimming pools, $10 million for tennis and golf improvements, $18 million for improving parks, $6.5 million for building renovations and $2.5 million for greenbelt improvements.
Scott Ehlers, president of the Allandale Neighborhood Association, said it came as a surprise to see Northwest pool, in his neighborhood between MoPac and Burnet Road, at risk of closure. He noted that the pool is named for Beverly Sheffield, “an Austin hero who developed the city’s park system and helped save Barton Springs,” and it received $350,000 in repairs in 2016.
“Northwest Pool has been enjoyed by generations of Austinites, and ANA will do everything in its power to make sure the pool continues to be enjoyed by generations to come,” he said.