Parks Department Sat on Metz Pool Repair Bid for Nearly 6 Months
From the Austin Monitor:
Although the city’s Parks and Recreation Department ordered the repair of an East Austin neighborhood pool in late April, it appears that the department had bids for the work for some time. This, even as department officials initially told residents that the pool would have to be closed for the 2015 summer season and then back-tracked under community pressure.
On Nov. 5, 2014 (see below), the Parks Department received a bid from Commercial Swim Management for Metz Pool repairs totaling $10,232.60. Those repairs included replacement of the plumbing in a pool wall drain and installation of new valves and piping. That bid was eventually approved, and a purchase request was made by the city on April 30, 2015.
Just a few days before the purchase was finally approved, the community received word that the city had plans to shut down Metz and Mabel Davis pools for the summer season because of excessive leaking. According to a presentation given to the City Council Open Space Committee, Mabel Davis was hemorrhaging 25,561 gallons of water per day, while Metz had been losing 21,192 gallons daily.
East Austin neighbors fought back at a Parks and Recreation Board meeting, arguing that it was unfair to learn roughly a month before the start of the summer season that some of them would be without the use of their community pools. The department reacted with a plan to repair the leaks so the pools could open some time in June.
In a memo to Council dated May 12, Parks Director Sara Hensley wrote, “Based upon this feedback, the Parks and Recreation Department invested additional resources into detecting and repairing the infrastructure we believe is responsible for the leaks.” Metz opened June 15 and Mabel Davis June 8.
However, it’s now clear that the department knew the extent and cost of the leaks at Metz Pool as early as November.
Assistant Parks Director Kimberly McNeeley told the Austin Monitor that because of a chronically tight budget, single pool repairs do not happen in a vacuum. She said that from November, when the department got the bid, to April, when it paid the contractor, the department had to decide if it was willing to spend the money for the repairs – a decision it ultimately made after community backlash.
“We were taking a look at this holistically,” McNeeley told the Monitor. “What are some of the best decisions to make to keep these pools operating and make sure we’re not over budget?”
Last year, the Aquatics Division exceeded its budget by $482,000. McNeeley said the division expects to exceed this year’s budget by roughly the same amount.
McNeeley also said that down the road, the department does not want to make these decisions without community input. She said beginning in mid-August, the department will host feedback events at neighborhood and municipal pools. City staff will outline the current conditions of pools (Metz, for example, is more than 80 years old, while the average lifespan of a public pool is 30 years), asking neighbors what they would like to see happen when their pool reaches a critical point – such as requiring extensive, pricey repairs.
These conversations, McNeeley said, will provide the department with criteria to inform decisions such as those made about Metz and Mabel Davis.
“In the future, we’ll have already had a conversation (with the community),” she said.