Pool of cash dwindles for City’s swim center

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

A decision on which swim center plan to move forward with – if any – was delayed again by the City Council Monday in favor of future discussion, but how it would be funded continues to become a bigger hurdle.

Rather than choose between one of two options on the table – the plan approved by Council in early 2019 or the new version proposed by Mayor Rick Hall in early July – a workshop was set for Aug. 20 for the Parks Board and City Council to meet together to discuss the options further. Council member Kathy Canady suggested that Tim Dean, who has planned and overseen a number of municipal pool projects, join the discussion to help the Council reach a conclusion.

“We’ve had someone volunteer to come and speak to the Council, and hopefully the Parks Board, and they have about 35 years of community-type pool (experience) so they can look at both plans,” Canady said. “I think it would be in our best interest. This is not a man who is going to make us pay him to come give us his expertise. It’s a man who is currently working with the City of Cedar Park who has 35-plus years experience in community pools. There are a lot of things he brought to my attention that we might need to look into, and we have time.”

The previously approved project was voted on by the Council in Spring 2019, and 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 who 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.

Hall’s suggested alternative resembles a plan he proposed in October, which the Council rejected at that time.

He 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.

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

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

At either price, how the project would be funded has become a key question.

Former City Administrator Greg Boatright confirmed that the original proposed price tag was an estimate from Halff Associates, and that when the City sold $3 million in bonds in early 2019, the funds were budgeted for and intended for the roundabout project, swim center and some other downtown parking projects.

Despite the previously approved plan, Hall implied that the funding issue with the swim center was a lack of proper budgeting.

“I think whether it is this project or any other project on the board, whether it’s the parks board that presents a project or it’s Wayne’s (Bonnet) group that presents, or the streets department or whoever it is, this Council, what they need to do is set a budget for the projects and that would eliminate 99 percent of the problems we have with this one,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, an overview of current capital improvement projects (CIP) and available funds showed that the City currently has only $710,319 available in CIP funds, not enough to cover the project at either price.

“I want to emphasize from my standpoint that I’ve never once said that I don’t want to do this,” Hall said. “I’m trying to figure out how we can get it done knowing we have $700,000 left, and if we get the half-million-dollar grant we can come up with another couple hundred thousand dollars potentially.”

Later in the meeting, though, the Council approved moving forward with the previously un-budgeted community center project, which has an estimated price tag of $750,000, which would then leave no funds currently for the swim center.

The City can issue new bonds for the project, but would likely wait until 2021 due to interest rate advantages at that time.

During public comments, Parks Board Chair Mary Lyn Jones reminded the Council that the swim center project has been a work in progress since 2016, and asked that the current plan be kept in place.

“The Parks Board has always been open for discussion, but we feel like we could go ahead with the design the Council has already approved to do the splash pad and the pool,” Jones said.

Parks Board member Mike Wilson said he recognizes that visions and ideas change as people change on the Council, but he said the pattern he sees keeps projects from being completed.

“Over the last 10 years we have had many projects and seen a few of them through, but the more projects that I’ve seen come to our board, the more I saw the same scenario over and over,” he said. “The scenario was one City Council and Mayor would come in, they would help us, we would get a project going, it would start forming and look like it was coming to fruition, then the Council and or the Mayor would change and they wouldn’t see it the same. They would want to change things to the way they see things and the project just gets pushed and pushed and pushed and it keeps going over and over.”

The swim center became a priority a few years ago when more than 60 percent of respondents to a community survey said they 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.

A survey conducted by The Independent last week on social media showed that 84 percent of the 444 respondents favored moving forward with the swim center plan approved in 2019.

In March 2019, the city council approved plans for design 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 pool itself 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 shallow end more easily, and creates greater ease of entrance for everyone.

Plans also included 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.

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