Key questions still floating in City Council’s pool debate
By MIKE EDDLEMAN
Which came first, the project plan or the budget?
That’s the issue the City Council is wading into as discussions continue regarding how to pay for and what to build when it comes to a community pool.
Last week, the Council had a workshop with the Parks Board, and Monday there was a second lengthy discussion on how to finalize a project that has essentially gone back to the drawing board.
The final decision Monday was similar to recent decisions on the issue, with the Council voting unanimously to schedule another workshop for Sept. 28, this time bringing in representatives from Halff Associates – who designed the original plan – to talk about what might be scaled back and what is essential.
In a summary of the workshop for the Council, Parks Board Vice Chair Mike Wilson said a lot of progress was made during the discussion.
“We believe that a slightly modified version of the original version, scaled down, hopefully budget-wise, is what I think everybody agreed on,” said Wilson.
Mayor Rick Hall reiterated his concern for the increased infrastructure in the pool house and pump equipment required if the project includes a splash pad.
“Is the consensus of the meeting to still incorporate the splash pad?” Hall asked. “In speaking with pool builders, if we have a splash pad (the pool and splash pad) have to be on separate pumps in order for water to be shot up in the air so we can’t coordinate that through the circulation of the swimming pool.”
Wilson said there could be other options considered to help pare down that cost.
“Since we have a splash pad over at Wetzel there might be some things we can do to give us an area for smaller kids to still be away from the main pool without having the splash pad and extra equipment,” Wilson said.
The bottom line for Wilson was that before a decision can be made the Council needed to determine what it was willing to spend.
“Maybe we need to have a budget first,” Wilson said. “Call me crazy, but then you know what you have to work with then you can start right-sizing things. I think you need to decide on a budget. Is it one and a half (million), is it two (million)? Whatever the number is then you can right-size to that. I think if we start with a budget and go from there I think we can get this thing rolling.”
When asked at the end of the meeting what the pool budget should be, Hall said he didn’t know yet.
“In my opinion is I don’t know what it costs and I think we need to have a really good understanding of what different cities have paid, or what the cost of the pool should be,” said Hall. “I don’t want to spend $10 million on a pool and I don’t want to spend only a million dollars and not get what we need.”
Council member Tony DeYoung chimed in and said when he looks at the two designs and the hybrid between the two, that he thinks the budget should be in the neighborhood of $1.7 million, which means $1.2 million to the City when including the grant funds.
Potential changes in costs from the initial discussion to construction was also a concern.
“There was a huge increase between the initial estimate and the last one,” said Council member Steve McIntosh. “Regardless of how we come up with a number, we need to also figure out where that’s going to be when we finally get a bulldozer out there.”
The original plan was approved and the process set in motion by the Council in the spring of 2019, with a groundbreaking that June, but there was 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 implied there was never funding officially allocated for the project, but those involved in the original planning say that’s not true, and the 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 Mayor Rick 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.
“We had to make modifications over the years to accommodate them,” Dean said of swim teams. “One of the things is it is going to require winter swimming and that’s going to require a massive heater to heat that pool, and that’s very costly. In addition to that you have to have pool tarps.”
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 lap lanes take up about two-thirds of our water surface, and the other third is our play surface,” Dean said. “If you go there at any time, you are going to have two-thirds of the swimmers in one-third of that pool because that’s where the shallow water is. That’s where the kids are.”
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.
“This is not a bad design,” Dean said of the originally approved plan. “I know it’s a little more expensive than the other one, but this is a really good design.”
Under current rules, City Council members must find a second Council member to sponsor items they want to add to the agenda for consideration at meetings. Council members Tony DeYoung and Kathy Canady hoped to change that Monday, by offering a proposal to allow each member to place up to two items on the agenda each meeting without a sponsor, with the stipulation that if the measure failed by vote that it could not be brought back for consideration for at least six months.
Following a brief discussion, the motion failed 2-3, with Canady and DeYoung as the only two Council members supporting the proposal.
Bailey Lane improvements
The Council is looking into potential improvements to Bailey Lane, but postponed any action until more information could be gathered on a number of other improvements suggested Monday such as acceleration and deceleration lanes, possible future signalization, and potentially the realignment of Loop 332 – currently just to the west – to Bailey Lane.
Bailey runs north from SH 29 just to the west of Golden Chick and Dairy Queen. The two-lane road currently 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 brought to the Council Monday was for widening only, and improving the entry from SH 29, with an estimated price tag provided by Steger Bizzell Engineering of $440,695.
New EDC website
The Council unanimously signed off on a Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation (EDC) initiative that will create a website where local properties for sale can be showcased, and regularly updated to help promote local economic development.
“Currently, all the City of Liberty Hill has is just a link to LoopNet,” said interim EDC Executive Director Matt Powell. “LoopNet, if any of you have used it, is not an all-encompassing tool and it tends to favor larger developers.”
The new site will work in conjunction with LoopNet, but will be much more specific to local properties and developments.
The website will be created by GIS Planning, and will have a $5,000 annual fee for creating, updating and maintenance. It is expected to take 45 days to get the site up and running.
“Think of it as GIS planning creates the infrastructure, then you have to fill it with the data,” Powell said. “They will fill it for you the first time, but how do you keep it updated? There’s something called LoopNet that is based in Austin and all they do is scour and they actually have a system that if it is not scoured any developer can actually go on and enter their own properties on there.”
The cost for LoopNet is $3,500 annually, and the data on the site will be updated twice a week through LoopNet.
Butler traffic signal
The Council authorized Mayor Hall to enter into a professional services agreement with HNTB Corporation for services related to the implementation of a traffic signal as part of the intersection improvements of SH 29 and the new Butler Farms development on the north side of the highway and west of Liberty Hill High School. The not to exceed price is $111,628 and the City should eventually be reimbursed for those costs by the Butler Farms Public Improvement District.
According to the scheduled scope of the project, it is anticipated to open bids in January and be completed by April 2021.
The City of Liberty Hill will be installing a kiosk on the outer wall of the municipal court building, creating a drive through where payments can be made for everything from court fines to water bills.
“People will be able to stay in their cars, they will be able to pull up there 24 hours a day, and they can make a payment for utility payments and for court,” said Finance Director Becky Wilkins.
All City payment services will then be switched to the same service making it easier to take and manage payments in person, through the kiosk and over the phone.
Convenience fees for utility payments will be included when customers use the kiosk, ranging from $3.95 to $9.95 or 3 percent for transactions over $1,000. Payments for citations or warrants will have a 5 percent fee.
In February, the Council established a committee to create a proposed city charter, but the process was paused as the COVID-19 pandemic slowed many things.
There was an item on Monday’s agenda – sponsored by Canady and DeYoung – to consider possible removal of Matt Powell as the committee facilitator, but after the item was moved to executive session there was no discussion or action on the item in open session.
Hall did say that the charter effort would see some changes, but was not specific on what those would be.
“They did meet last Saturday and there’s been some enlightenment out of that meeting and I think we will probably bring back in the next couple of council meetings a reboot and give the charter committee more direction as far as what our expectations are from that committee,” Hall said. “And we will open up and allow other citizens to get involved in it before we really get going with it.”