Most municipal bond programs for new, modern facilities bring excitement to the neighborhood. But when it comes to the Forest Park Pool, need is clashing with nostalgia.
Fort Worth officials want to spend $7.5 million in the next bond package, which voters will consider in May, to transform the Forest Park Pool into a modern aquatic center. Another $7 million would fund construction of a new center in the Stop Six neighborhood.
The decision to demolish the Forest Park Pool and rebuild the entire facility is the right one. At more than 50 years old, its infrastructure is badly outdated, increasing the likelihood of mechanical failure that’s beyond fixing.
“At some point, you scrape it down and you build a brand new one,” said Richard Zavala, director of the Fort Worth Park and Recreation Department.
Think of it like an aging car; it’s become more cost effective to buy another than to keep pouring money into repairs.
The pool is past its prime in another way, too. Last significantly renovated in 1967, it no longer serves the needs of a much larger city that demands dramatically different public facilities.
Forest Park Pool remains a treasure to those with fond memories of summers spent there seeking relief from the heat. They deserve to be heard, as do safety advocates concerned that the new design will limit swimming and water safety lessons.
The city parks department plans a meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Forest Park Pool, 2850 Park Place Ave., for residents to ask questions. City leaders should take the feedback seriously. There’s opportunity for compromise to address many concerns.
But it’s also important to address misconceptions that have formed about the redesign plan. First, it’s not new. A 2007 audit indicated that Forest Park Pool would need to be replaced. And the city’s overall strategy on public pools dates to 2012. The first conversion of an old pool to a modern aquatic center, Marine Park, a couple years later laid the groundwork for successful transitions.
City Council member Elizabeth Beck, whose District 9 includes the Forest Park Pool, stressed that the proposed design is derived from the master plan and no decisions are final. She wants to balance fondness for the old pool with the need for upgrades, such as improved access for those with disabilities.
“Everyone has a Forest Park Pool story — they grew up going there, learned to swim there, their grandparents took them there,” Beck said. “We want to make sure we don’t leave that out, that we don’t scrap our city’s history.”
The current pool has eight lanes 50 meters in length. The redesign calls for four lanes of 25 yards each, plus a wading pool, large water slide and other play features.
A top priority must be support for swimming lessons, particularly for underserved communities. Pam Cannell, a founder and board member of the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition, said the proposed design would lack the ideal depth for such lessons.
Another concern, she said, is the amount of perimeter space around the pool, which would be greatly reduced if the new lap pool is half the size of the old one.
“When you take a group of fearful students, comfort with the water is a No. 1 step,” said Cannell, who’s also president-elect of the National Drowning Prevention Alliance “They need perimeter space to sit, gradually go in, grab the sides.”
Cannell said preserving the perimeter space created by having eight lanes should be a priority, along with depth of more than four feet. But lanes shortened to 25 yards would work, too.
As Cannell pointed out, Texas has a tragically high ranking in the number of annual pediatric drownings. “We need to come at it from a public health standpoint,” she said.
The Parks Department notes the similar Marine Creek facility hosts lessons annually, though Cannell said the perimeter size is an issue there, too. Zavala, who noted that he learned to swim at Forest Park as a boy, pledged: “We’re not going to build a pool where you can’t learn to swim.”
Part of the challenge in forging a compromise will be additional cost. The city has billions of dollars of needs, and aquatic centers are budgeted at a firm $7 million each. The City Council could direct more to the Forest Park project, but the aquatic centers are a chance to ensure equity among city facilities, Beck noted. Taking money away from, say, the Stop Six project wouldn’t be just.
Private donations could be the answer. In 2012, a grant from the Radler Foundation funded repairs to extend the Forest Park Pool’s life another few years. But the funding must be secured by February in time for the May ballot.
The new plan has been derided as trading much of the sizable pool for a “splash pad.” Those are essentially sprinklers and water cannons that spray over concrete. But the one at Marine Park, and planned at Forest Park is larger and more elaborate, with shallow pools and the kind of interactive features that entertain children in a way a plain pool can’t.
Perhaps a city approaching 1 million in population should have more than a handful of aquatic centers. But that’s a different argument about overall spending priorities.
Fort Worth has an admirable instinct for preserving charming parts of its history. Nostalgia is valuable until it clouds the picture of what the city needs going forward. And in the case of the Forest Park Pool, that’s a much different facility — one designed, we hope, with compromises to fill as many vital functions as possible.