City struggles to come up with fix for Austin’s public pools

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin officials say the city’s public pool system needs a fix if it’s expected to operate sustainably in the future. The majority of the city’s public pools are growing old, with issues that could end up beyond repair if left without a fix for much longer.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Department has unveiled the Austin Aquatic Master Plan, which would address concerns of failing infrastructure and issues regarding placement of neighborhood pools.

The plan recommends consolidating some neighborhood pools into singular community or regional pools with more amenities, such as lap lanes, water slides and other play features. As part of the plan, the city would do away with 10 of its existing neighborhood pools and instead offer people living nearby with a community pool option.

In doing away with 10 existing pools, Austin Parks and Recreation Director Kimberly McNeeley says the cost of saving and consolidating the rest would be about $96 million.

If the city were to keep those 10 pools in place, McNeeley says the cost of keeping all of the city’s current pools afloat and fixing their issues would be around $180 million. According to McNeeley, the Parks and Recreation Department would ask for money to fund fixing failing pools over time, starting with an estimated $15 million in the city’s 2018 bond package.

The Austin Aquatic Master Plan also proposes turning several existing neighborhood pools into community or regional pools through renovations. In addition, four completely new outdoor pools would be built in four different areas of town: northwest, northeast, southwest and southeast Austin. In addition to the outdoor community and regional pools, two new indoor swimming facilities are also proposed, one in northeast Austin, and another in the southern part of the city.

The city’s Parks and Recreation Board met Tuesday night and voted not to fully approve the Aquatic Master Plan as it is. Board members resolved to set up a working group to look for potential ways to avoid shutting down any neighborhood pools.

McNeeley, who presented the plan to the board, agreed that a working group would be helpful, but said she hopes it can lead the board to a resolution quickly.

“It will be hard four us to change the story of the amount of water that we’re leaking, of the number of swimming pools that require repairs,” McNeeley said. “It will be hard for us to change the story if we don’t take some action, and while I’m not sure exactly what the right action is, it can’t stay the same. It either has to be an investment or an opportunity for us to make some alternate decisions which we know will be disappointing to the city.”

In Tuesday night’s meeting, the board also discussed the possibility of requiring entry fees at all of the city’s public pools in the future. Currently, only municipal pools along with the Barton Springs and Deep Eddy pools charge entry fees.

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