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Sink Or Swim? Austin Lays Out Plan For Aging Public Pool System

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez
Some neighborhood pools could close under the city's Aquatics Master Plan.

Earlier this year, Austin announced that it would have to close Givens Pool on East 12th Street for the summer. A couple weeks later, it revealed that Mabel Davis in Southeast Austin would need to close, too. A total of four pools are closed this season. The reason? Leaking and aging infrastructure.

Against this backdrop, the city finalized a plan that lays out the future of its public pool system. Under the Aquatics Master Plan, pools would service larger regions and be more financially sustainable. That could lead to the closure of some neighborhood pools and the introduction of entrance fees at pools that are currently free.

“The Austin residents and the Parks and Recreation Department indicated a need for a more sustainable and equitable system,” reads the plan, which comes after three years of public meetings on the pool system.

At a public meeting about the city’s pool system in June, some residents said focusing on larger, more regional pools would be a loss for families who depend on neighborhood pools as babysitters.

“It’s not the same as getting your kids in the car and driving up to Northwest Park, which is a municipal pool,” said Anita Ballard, who lives near Ramsey Pool. “That’s an event. This is a, ‘Out of the house! Get some exercise. Go to the pool.’”

Adriana Graf, who also lives near Ramsey Pool, said she would support keeping her neighborhood pool open longer and having the city charge a fee during those non-summer months – if that would make the whole system more financially stable.

“I know our neighborhood would be willing to pay,” she said. “Not year-round. I wouldn’t want that, because I’d want there to be access to everybody.”

The Master Plan attaches a score to each pool based on surrounding need, location and condition of the pool, among other categories. The combined scores show pools that could be on the chopping block.

The plan also calls for the creation of up to two indoor facilities, where lifeguard training and swim classes could happen year-round. An indoor pool could replace an existing outdoor pool in South Austin – either Garrison or Mabel Davis.

“Schedules, a lack of hours, and a need for an indoor facility increase the difficulty of finding Instructor/Trainers, which in turn leads to large training classes that make learning and skill development more challenging,” the plan says. “Starting classes earlier in the spring could reduce stress on those offered in late spring.”

The plan will be presented to the city’s Parks Board on Tuesday. Austin and Parks Recreation Department staff were not available for comment Monday.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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