$1.3 million is magic number on swim center

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

After another workshop Monday where Brian Binkowski with Halff Associates was peppered with questions on splash pads, pool houses, gate locations and restroom access, the Liberty Hill Council got down to the business of deciding what the City could afford to spend on a swim center.

The answer is $1.3 million.

The funding would come from a seven-year bond, that would actually be for $1.4 million, with annual payments that begin at about $220,000 and increase to $260,000 over the life of the note. The other option considered was a $1 million bond that would give the City $920,000 in funds for the project, and would include annual payments between $125,000 and $220,000 over the life of the note.

“We could bond more or less, depending on what all is included,” said Finance Director Becky Wilkins, confirming that the City could sustain payments on the bond. “Anything below $1.5 (million) would be a palatable payment. If you go above that it starts eating into some other project money you may want to use for something else.”

The Council ultimately unanimously adopted the first option as the budget.

That $1.3 million, in conjunction with the $500,000 Texas Parks & Wildlife Grant gives the City $1.8 million to make the project happen. No final design was settled on and timetable was established for completion, but Mayor Rick Hall said it would not be a project that could be completed for summer 2021.

Binkowski said the new plan would come with additional engineering and permitting costs, some of which had been already covered under the original plan.

The original plan was approved and the process set in motion by the Council in spring 2019, with a groundbreaking that June, but a delay in the awarding of a $500,000 grant. The approved project – which never went out for bid – had an estimated price tag of $1.35 million after factoring in a $500,000 grant from Texas Parks & Wildlife. Hall said that project now has a price tag of $2.19 million, an estimate also provided by Halff Associates which designed the project. With the grant, that would mean the City would be funding about $1.7 million of the new projected cost. No explanation was given on how the estimate increased more than $300,000.

The Council has also implied there was never funding officially allocated for the project, but those involved in the original planning say that’s not true, and funds were earmarked for the swim center.

During the Aug. 20 joint workshop, Tim Dean, Recreation Manager for the City of Cedar Park, who has more than two decades of experience in municipal aquatics, spent more than 20 minutes talking about the pros and cons of both proposed pool plans.

When evaluating the more recent proposal, shared with the Council in July by Hall, Dean said it was problematic in a number of ways. The square pool, with a kiddie pool, proposal has limitations on accessibility and practical use for younger swimmers and those with disabilities. Because it would have a minimum depth of four feet, Dean said it would make teaching swim lessons more difficult and would require a chair lift to give those with disabilities access — an expense not included in the proposal.

Dean also said that while the shape of the pool might accommodate swim lanes for lap swimmers or swim team practices, the plan did not call for a heated pool, which makes it impractical for swim team use. He also pointed out that lap lanes take up a lot of space, and is not usually where most swimmers are, referring to Cedar Park’s Milburn Pool.

The kiddie pool concept is one Dean said primarily serves as a cleaning challenge, collecting lots of sediment, and it only works for toddlers.

While the price tag is higher, Dean said there are advantages to the original design with the popularity of a splash pad with a greater age range of kids, and the zero entry that not only makes it easier for lessons and younger swimmers to enter the pool, but also accommodates swimmers with disabilities and eliminates the need for a lift chair.

Bailey Lane progress
The Council approved spending $198,786 with Steger Bizzell Engineering for services related to the widening and rehabilitation of Bailey Lane, which runs north from SH 29 just west of Golden Chick.

The increase comes as the Council has expanded the scope of planning to include the potential realignment of Loop 332 at SH 29 to the east to create an intersection with Bailey Lane, with the hope of eventually having a traffic signal at the intersection.

Bailey is currently a two-lane road that goes to Liberty Manor Apartments, but a new business park planned for the property between the apartments and restaurants is expected to increase traffic flow, and the Council is looking for ways to improve the road and its capacity.

The proposal first brought to the Council regarding Bailey Lane was for widening only, and improving the entry from SH 29, with an estimated price tag provided by Steger Bizzell of $440,695.

The new estimate proposed Monday with the addition of the possible realignment and signalization was for about $1.65 million including construction and soft costs.

The property needs for shifting Loop 332 would involve coordination with the Texas Department of Transportation and Liberty Hill ISD.

“The majority of that is TXDoT right of way, but there is a small sliver of that that is owned by the school district,” Hall said. “And now that we have this task order to move forward then Curtis (Steger) and I will set up a meeting with the school district to discuss this and how that portion of the right of way from the school can be obtained.”

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