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Tuesday, April 28, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano
City to close some swimming pools, reduce hours
Citing budget shortfalls, water conservation issues and a lack of lifeguards, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department says it will close two pools and cut back pool operating hours this summer.
The department says it would cost the city $41 million to bring all of its public pools into good repair.
According to a memo written by Parks and Recreation Department Director Sara Hensley to the mayor and City Council, a shortage in lifeguards means that the city will not be able to open pools June 5, which is the first day of summer break.
The department also plans to close pools once a week for maintenance and return to a staggered facility opening and closing schedule.
Additionally, the department will close Mabel Davis Municipal Pool and Metz Neighborhood Pool for the season, “due to serious leaks and declined usage.”
According to a presentation planned for Council’s Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee, last summer an estimated 56.77 acre-feet of water leaked from Austin pools — 256,000 gallons each day. Of that total, Mabel Davis lost 25,561 and Metz lost 21,192 gallons each day.
Parks officials expect the changes to save $505,195 this year. Last year, the division exceeded its budget by $482,000, and officials expect a similar overage in fiscal year 2015.
During last year’s budget cycle, Council approved a last-minute increase of $6.26 million to renovate the Govalle and Shipe pools, which were determined to be in the most critical need of repair.
This year the Parks Department says that, due to their poor condition, five pools other than Govalle and Shipe are at risk of failure in the next five years. Those pools are Givens (District 1), Montopolis (District 3), Civitan (District 3), Gillis (District 3) and Northwest (District 7). It estimates the replacements will cost $28.77 million.
Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who was part of last year’s budget process as a Council member, said she was “really taken aback” by the memo. Along with the $6.26 million for pool repairs, last year the city allocated an additional $250,000 to the Aquatics Division to complete a strategic master plan for its facilities. Tovo told the Austin Monitor that she expected the plan would allow the city to make such decisions in a more comprehensive manner. That master plan, and its progress, is not referenced in the memo.
According to the memo, an effort to resolve operational problems in the Aquatics Division fell flat and reaffirmed that the current business model is “inadequate.”
Both the presentation and memo from Hensley indicate that the crisis might be more than temporary. Instead, the end of the PowerPoint scheduled for Wednesday urges the city to think about the “Desired State” of aquatics in Austin, including “sustainable family centers in combination with a balanced preservation of historical aquatic assets, smaller neighborhood pools and splash pads.”
According to the presentation, usage-trends analysis shows that rectangular pools are obsolete and “once people experience the fun of a water park, they are less interested in visiting a flat water pool.”
Hensley’s memo echoes the sentiment.
“It is no longer feasible or appropriate to repeat past practices and as such, the Parks and Recreation Department will proceed with an alternative operation model starting Summer, 2015,” wrote Hensley. “Beyond the immediate operational changes, it is imperative the City determine its values as they relate to the desired future for Austin aquatics.”
In 2012, Council passed a resolution asking for an aquatic facilities comprehensive master plan through a public process with the stated goal that the plan “include strategies to ensure that Austin’s neighborhood pools remain open and free.”
That Aquatic Facilities Assessment was completed in 2014.
Council does have the option of providing more funding for the department as a budget amendment. In the meantime, its Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee will take up the issue at its meeting Wednesday.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council Open Space Environment and Sustainability Committee: A City Council committee that reviews environmental matters, including climate change and protection, water, trees, and parks.
City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department: The city department responsible for the city's park system, rec centers, and associated infrastructure.