Park Dept. Wants to Fill in City's 17 Swimming Holes and Start Over With "Aquatic Centers"

After Dwaine Caraway got done excoriating Paul Dyer over the city's decision to close five pools in the coming fiscal year, two in Caraway's district, the head of Park and Rec told the former mayor to get used to the idea. Because, look, said Dyer: The city owning and operating a bunch of concrete ponds is among the most antiquated concepts in the entire city. "These pools don't serve the public the way they used to," said Dyer, who pointed to the "family aquatic centers" being built in the 'burbs. Those, he said, are "what families want."

On Monday, we'll find out if it's what the council wants. During a budget briefing, Dyer is scheduled give a presentation titled Aquatic Facilities Master Plan, the result of a study begun in May 2010 by Kimley‐Horn and Associates, which was contracted by the city to study what we have, look at what everyone else is doing and report back to the Park Board; in February they moved ahead with the plan you see before you now. Long story short: The city wants to fill in the existing 17 pools, which, according to the report, "have reached the end of their useful life," are "physically and functionally obsolete" and are "geographically inefficient," serving an average of 37 visitors a day.

The master plan suggests replacing the 17 pools with nine so-called Community Family Aquatic Centers (kind of like the city-owned Bahama Beach), five slightly larger Metropolitan Family Aquatic Centers or some combination of the two (six smaller centers, three larger ones). Far as the city's concerned, building new centers will be far more economically viable than fixing up the old pools: The study guesstimates it'll cost $41 million in capital investment for the nine community centers; $32 million for the five metro centers; and $43.8 million for the combo pack. Just to fix what's already there, says the city, will run $37.4 million.

And how will this be paid for? Well, it could be a bond program. And/or: The city could try once more to sell Elgin B. Robertson Park, which voters nixed in November -- though, truth is, the city never made a good case to the public for why it was trying to offload so estimable a piece of land few have ever heard of. And/or: The city could try to sell naming rights, which it's trying at the Elm Fork soccer complex. Depends.

This won't happen immediately: The city has to figure out where to put the centers, for starters, which will involve public input. Then it has to figure out how much these centers will really cost. And then and then and then.

One question the briefing doesn't raise: What does the city, which already has its fair share of abandoned libraries and fire houses, plan to do with its existing concrete swimmin' holes? Skate parks?

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