Austin public pools may be able to outlive their expiration date

Liliana Hall

Deep Eddy and Barton Springs Pool fulfill the classic community pool vibes for most Austinites, but the days of walking down the block barefoot with your neighbors to the local pool could be ending.

Austin’s public pools were built between 1930 and 1990 with an average life span of 50 years, though their functionality should really only last 20-30 years according to Jodi Jay, division manager for aquatic- and nature-based program at the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Deparment. That puts at least five local pools at risk for permanent closure.

In February, the Austin City Council passed the Aquatic Master Plan 10-1, which is a multi-year process that lays out an assessment of the critical aspects of many pools in Travis County. Jimmy Flannigan, Austin City Council member from District 6, opposed the measure.

Flannigan told the Austin American-Statesman he could not support a measure that plans to spend 40 percent of money on new pools the city cannot afford to maintain. The 2018 maintenance budget allocated for public pools (excluding Barton Springs) was approximately $2.2 million, but there is an expected increase of about $1.8 million for next year if the upcoming bond proposal passes next month.

Jay said money was allocated by the outgoing council to rebuild the facilities listed on the critical list. The City intends to use the allocated funds for their intended purpose — making the pools operational again.

There were seven critical pools in 2014 that were listed in the aquatic assessment as not likely to last more than five years. These pools included Civitan, Gillis, Givens, Govalle, Montopolis, Northwest and Shipe. The city will start by bringing Govalle off Boggy Creek and Shipe in Hyde Park back to code.

“We have been in the design and bid process for a couple of years now on both Shipe and Govalle,” Jay said. “They are set to start construction this fall, and both will be open the summer of 2019.”

Shipe has been labeled inactive for two years following pipe malfunctions in 2016. The pool has had a notice on the fence since then, promising a remodel sometime in the near future. Austin intended to keep Shipe operational, but this was not a guarantee until the Aquatic Master Plan was approved this year after nearly four years of planning.

“Contractors have been awarded contracts and the city is ready to issue notices, so construction on Shipe can break ground sometime next week,” Jay said.

Love Austin Pools is a grassroots organization of Austin locals who began writing letters to the Austin City Council about their concerns with the Aquatic Master Plan. One of their concerns was that pools with high attendance, including Shipe, were set for eventual closure. They argued that the pools on the critical watch list are central to each neighborhood’s sense of community.

Steve Presler, a resident of Hyde Park, has sat wearily outside his apartment off Duval watching the city surrounding Hyde Park change rapidly over the near-eight decades that he has lived in Austin. He spent his childhood swimming at Shipe. When word spread that Shipe was going to shut down two summers ago, Presler said it was a shame.

“This neighborhood hasn’t changed much, and I have been here since the 1940s,” Presler said. “Shipe pool contributes to the charm of Hyde Park, and it is too cool of a place to not bring back to life.”

Shipe is one of two pools that are set to reopen next summer.

“People of Austin love their pools, and they want us to invest in them,” Jay said. “They want us to keep them operational, and we do the best that we can to do that.”