Council to consider future of swim center

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

When the Liberty Hill City Council meets Monday, it could be deciding if the future of the long-awaited swim center is now or whether the dry spell will continue when it comes to a community pool.

The Council will meet with the Parks Board, which guided the project from inception to a groundbreaking last summer, to discuss options for the project that now faces questions over projected increased costs and funding sources.

On the chopping block is the previously approved project that was voted on by the Council in the Spring of 2019, which at the time had a price tag of $1.35 million after factoring in a $500,000 grant from Texas Parks & Wildlife. Mayor Rick Hall said that project now has a price tag of $2.19 million — an estimate also provided by Halff Associates which designed the project. No explanation was given on how the estimate increased more than $800,000. Hall did not clarify if the new cost projection was inclusive of the $500,000 grant, and did not respond to a request for an interview with The Independent on the issue.

In light of the new cost projection, Hall’s suggested alternative resembled a plan he proposed back in October, which the Council rejected at that time.

When the Council discussed the issue July 13, Hall emphasized this time the shrinking of the building in the project, and simplifying some other parts.

“The building design is, and this is a comment from the engineer, the building design is way too large as far as the equipment space room, the chemical space room. He said you’ll probably use 25-30 percent of that for the pumps and equipment for the pool, so there’s a lot of additional cost in that.”

He said the simpler proposal made it more affordable.

“This design is more typical of what municipalities do,” Hall said of the new proposal. “It’s just a square rectangle pool, and again, like with the other design it was shaped, it wasn’t square lines, so that also had increased price for the pool.”

The second plan includes a smaller building, no zero entry, and replacing the splash pad with a kiddie pool.

The new plan is proposed at just over $1.5 million based on projections from Halff Associates.

When the Liberty Hill Master Parks Plan was developed, more than 60 percent of respondents to a community survey wanted to see a splash pad or water feature, and just under 60 percent said they wanted a city swim center – by far the two most popular wishes from the community in the survey.

In March 2019, the city council approved plans for designers with Halff Associates to move forward with detailed plans and bid documents to seek construction bids for the project.

The swim center is set to be built just north of the basketball courts at City Park on County Road 200.

The swim center as approved includes a roughly 1,300-square-foot open-air pool house facility with restrooms, pavilion area, vending and changing rooms. There would be no heating or air conditioning.

As plans were drawn up, the option was included to have restrooms and a potential vending area accessible year round for park users, even when the pool was closed.

The previously approved pool design would be about 4,800 square feet, with a zero entry grade on one end and reaching a depth of five feet on the other. This allows children to play in the shallower end more easily, and creates greater ease of entrance for everyone.

Plans also include fencing, shade structures, landscaping and grass areas surrounding the pool deck.

A parking lot with approximately 60 spaces, along with an improved entrance on County Road 200 and the decomposed granite half-mile trail around the southern half of the park were also included.

At the July 13 Council meetings, Council member Kathy Canady pushed to have the issue considered at the July 27 meeting when the Parks Board could be present for the discussion.

When it comes to funding, the project falls under capital improvement projects, but there was no clear answer whether there were truly finds available for the project – at least not the originally approved project. According to former City Administrator Greg Boatright, the funds were set aside and available for the project at the time, but Hall and City Finance Director Becky Wilkins questioned the availability of funds for the original plans today.

“Currently, we don’t have the funds to do the first plan,” Wilkins said. “It’s all contingent on the grant so if we don’t get the grant then that’s another half-million dollars we would have to come up with that we probably do not have at this point for that project.”

Hall said he thought there was currently $1.1 million to $1.2 million left in the CIP funds.

“We need to have this discussion, because like Becky (Wilkins) said, if we don’t have it, then the next item would be to pull that money out of reserves to finish this project and that’s not a smart project to do with reserve money because reserve money is for emergency purposes, not building swimming pools.”

Council member Tony DeYoung asked for an update at the July 27 meeting on current capital improvement fund allocations and projected expenditures.

Despite agreement that discussions should take place with members of the Parks Board, DeYoung called it a “heavy price tag and a large project” to take on now. Council member Gram Lankford also shared his reservations.

“I don’t feel like it’s a good time to spend that kind of money on a project like this,” said Lankford. “I think there’s a right way to do it and in the future, potentially in the near future, we’ll have a better amount of funds to do something a bit more elaborate and I think the community would get a lot more out of it that way. I just don’t see it as the right time to spend a million dollars putting a pool in.”

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