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Residents confront Parks Board over pool closures

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 by Audrey McGlinchy, KUT

East Austin residents demanded answers from the Parks and Recreation Board during its Tuesday meeting over news that Metz Neighborhood Pool and Mabel Davis Municipal Pool will close this summer for extensive repairs. The item was not on the board’s agenda, but after hearing Monday that the two pools, both in District 3, will be closed, residents said they did not know where else to direct their questions.

“Our concern as a community is the timing,” said Gavino Fernandez, coordinator of the El Concilio Coalition of Mexican-American Neighborhoods. “It’s an insult. If we knew (the pools were) leaking way back in the day, why is it that one month and a half before we went into the summer, we’re being told that they’re going to be closed?”

Chair Jane Rivera said the board also only heard about the closures Monday. The Parks Department’s Aquatics Assessment was completed last October. Parks Director Sara Hensley confirmed with the board Tuesday that the department saw a presentation last month about the critical failure of some pools in the city.

According to a presentation set for the Open Space, Environment and Sustainability Committee on Wednesday, both pools lose a great deal of water daily. Last summer, Metz lost roughly 21,000 gallons of water each day, while Mabel Davis leaked more than 25,000 gallons daily.

Kimberly McNeeley, assistant director of the Aquatics Division, said the closures are intended to be temporary.

But Bertha Delgado, president of the East Town Lake Citizens Neighborhood Association, said that one summer without access to a pool that serves 11,000 children is a colossal injury to the community she represents.

“What’s going to happen to all the neighborhood kids that need to go swimming at this pool?” asked Delgado, her voice cracking.

Rivera urged residents to keep in mind that repairs are routine, especially given the average age of Austin’s pools, which hovers near 40 years. Rivera said many municipal pools are not designed to last longer than two decades. Metz was built in 1934, making it one of the oldest pools in Austin. Mabel Davis is 36 years old.

However, for Board Member Michael Casias and many of the residents who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, the necessary repairs and consequent shutdown of the pools did not explain the full spread of their fury and frustration.

“My issue is not that we have to make hard choices, and that we have to close pools,” said Casias. “You had all these days of the year when you could have made this announcement other than a month before everyone’s expecting their pools to open.”

Delgado said echoed the sentiment that the department’s decision to announce the closures this week despite an October assessment felt personal to the low-income areas of Austin these pools serve.

“They didn’t have the courtesy to let anybody know until a month before it’s supposed to open,” Delgado told the Austin Monitor.

Casias had one suggestion: keep the pools open and initiate repairs on the first day of the offseason. He pointed out that since the pools have been losing the city money anyway, what will one more season do to an already dried-up budget? “We were losing money 10 years ago on (these pools), I’m sure,” he said.

McNeeley said the Aquatics Division is planning to create a task force that will make recommendations regarding the future of Austin’s pools. She said it has proved impossible to keep them running under the current business model.

However, talk of the future did not quiet the neighbors of the Metz and Mabel Davis pools. Their minds remained fixed on the nearing summer days, now looking much hotter for locals.

During the meeting, East Austin resident Rick Luna took to directing shouts of “Fire her!” toward Hensley. He also called for the dismissal of Casias, who responded by saying he had just gotten word about the pools Tuesday morning. “I’ve never even heard of Metz until today,” he said.

“That’s the point,” said Luna.

By Cjp24 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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