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Thursday, April 30, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy

Parks will consider keeping city pools open

After impassioned reactions from neighbors to news that the city would close Metz Neighborhood and Mabel Davis Municipal pools this summer for extensive repairs, the Parks and Recreation Department told the Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee on Wednesday that it was looking into ways to keep the pools open. These would only be stopgap solutions, however, with repairs to start in the offseason.

“We hear the Metz community, and so certainly it is an option that our department wants to consider to not close Metz,” said Kimberly McNeeley, assistant director of the Aquatics Division.

The decision comes after neighbors of the Metz Pool showed up at the Parks and Recreation Board meeting Tuesday night, frustrated and upset at hearing news of the pool closures only a month before the pools were set to open.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo urged the Parks Department to consider keeping Mabel Davis open as well, even though neighbors of that pool have not been as outspoken at city meetings.

“We’ve heard a lot about Metz, but I would say Mabel Davis has a community and neighborhood around it as well,” said Tovo. She said the alternative pools to Mabel Davis highlighted by the Parks Department — Big Stacy and Gillis — are both roughly 2 miles away. Frequenters of Metz have Martin Pool, roughly 1 mile away.

At the same time, McNeeley spoke frankly about what keeping these pools open would mean for the city’s water usage.  Both were to remain closed to repair extensive leaking.

“If we didn’t close Metz, that would mean that we would probably leak about 900,000 gallons of water, close to a million gallons of water,” said McNeeley. “However, we would be satisfying the community and allowing them an opportunity to utilize that space.”

That is exactly what committee members urged the department to keep in mind after McNeeley compared the Aquatics Division to a private business — saying that if it were so, the department would have gone under already. City Council Member Delia Garza said that analogy concerned her.

“If we compared most of our departments to the private sector, we wouldn’t be doing it right,” Garza said. “We wouldn’t have a fire department; we wouldn’t have a police department. Much of what the city does is a community benefit.”

Garza and other committee members acknowledged Wednesday that the Parks Department is chronically underfunded and that closing Metz and Mabel Davis would free up much-needed funds. City staff said closing both pools would save the department roughly $500,000. If it were to keep Metz open, those savings would drop slightly, to $400,000.

Tovo brought up the example of Shipe Pool, which was also badly in need of repairs last year. The city was able to put an interim patch on the leak so that the pool could stay open throughout the summer. Tovo asked McNeeley if the department could apply a similar solution to Metz and Mabel Davis.

“Those are things that we want to take under serious consideration, but between yesterday and today we haven’t been able to complete all of the research that would be needed to see what that would look like,” said McNeeley. “So I guess the answer is maybe.”

Photo by Pfc. Brianna Turner [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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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.

Parks and Recreation Board: The city’s Parks and Recreation Board members deal with the acquisition, development, improvement, and maintenance of Austin’s parks and playgrounds.

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