It's hard to overstate how completely the city of Dallas has neglected its aquatics system. It hasn't built a new pool since 1978, when it built an indoor facility near Bachman Lake. The number of pools operated by the city dropped from 107 in 1983 to 17 today. Those that survived the budget ax of 2008 saw their hours cut. Those that didn't were cannibalized for parts. Meanwhile, attendance plummeted.
The handful of splash pads the city has built and the opening of Bahama Beach have done little to shore up a crippled system, particularly since the water park lost its private partner five years ago.
But now, the city is considering a plan to revitalize the system. This month, the Park Board approved a 60-page master plan that calls for a dramatic re-imagining of aquatics in Dallas. Gone are the outdated neighborhood pools that once dotted the city. In their place will be a handful of large, multipurpose "family aquatic centers" to "stir the community into more pool use."
And what exactly is a family aquatic center? There are a couple of models proposed in the master plan, but generally speaking they offer a lot more bells and whistles in addition to the standard rectangular pool. Things like water slides, zero-depth entry, play features for kids and a lazy river. They're basically miniature water parks.
There are a couple of major benefits to this approach, the report argues. For one, they achieve sort of an economy of scale by consolidating the maintenance, utilities and parking currently spread between several locations into a single spot.
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More important is a change in swimming habits that has taken place over the last several decades. The report cites various evidence to support this suggestion, but the simple fact is, no one wants to swim in the city's obsolete rectangular pools. They want to go to more elaborate facilities like ones that have opened in Garland, Grand Prairie and North Richland Hills over the years, places like the family aquatic centers the city is proposing to build.
Of course, the biggest obstacle to getting those facilities built -- and the reason the aquatics system is in such sorry shape to begin with -- is cost, which will be large. The master plan recommends building five community family aquatic centers, three larger and more elaborate regional centers, and two splash pads at a price tag of $40 million or so. The cost will be covered in part by the sale of two little-used parks. The City Council will have to figure out how to scrounge up the rest.
Or not. Aside from building Bahama Beach, few of the recommendations contained in the city's 2001 aquatics plan ever came to fruition. The council will also have the option to renovate the city's existing pools. But that will cost $44 million and, like the report says, no one wants to swim at obsolete rectangular pools. That'd be like throwing money down the drain.