City Pool Forum Brings Ideas, Heated Opinions

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A conference room full of city residents gave their input, which sometimes became heated, about plans for a new pool in the city of Athens.

Residents met with  designers from MSA Architects on Tuesday at the Athens Community Center to talk about potential designs – and a potential new location – for the city pool.

City residents discuss ideas for the Athens City Pool at a workshop Tuesday at the Athens Community Center. Photo by Susan Tebben / WOUB News

Keith Hall, principal designer at MSA brought along pictures and plans that included the entire recreation center campus in the design. He also brought other members of the design team, which includes landscape designers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, civil engineers, plumbing designers and structural engineers.

“We’re looking at the whole site as an opportunity,” Hall told the group.

He said a study done in 2015 by consulting firm Brandstetter Carroll, Inc. had shown that the priority was an outdoor pool and plans for a future indoor pool facility. The study also showed that the current pool would not last more than another season.

“The study said…that pool is on life support,” Hall said.

The study also said that an outdoor pool would essentially cost the same to the city as the previous one had, whereas an indoor pool would cost the city more.

The project is expected to cost a total of $6.45 million, which includes estimated construction costs and payment to the design team, according to a contract provided to WOUB by the City of Athens. The money would be taken from a 20-year income tax levy that was approved in November 2015 to fund arts, parks and recreation improvements.

The first concept for the pool’s location was to leave it where it was, which would be more of a challenge when it came to weather during the construction process, Hall said. The second plan placed the outdoor pool right next to the community center, which would allow for indoor/outdoor space later on in the pool’s life. The third concept placed the pool where there are currently tennis courts, a fourth set the pool back where the dog park sits.

Though that plan puts the pool out of the floodplain, an issue that will cause extra grading and ground work in any other pool concept, it also puts the facility close to the wastewater treatment plant, which audience members vocally contested.

A fifth plan put the pool slightly South of where it currently sits.

The plans also included ideas about where to place green space and a potential new location for the Athens Farmers Market.

During their presentation, MSA was met with opposition by community members, who felt mislead by the designs being demonstrated and the fact that an indoor pool was not planned for the first phase of the construction.

Several in the audience called out to the designers, saying an outdoor pool wasn’t their choice.

“We’ve had 46 years of an outdoor pool, and we love the outdoor pool,” said Todd Swearingen. “But we also like the idea of an indoor pool.”

Swearingen claimed the process of deciding on a pool had been driven by the administration’s wants, and said the fact that an indoor pool is not part of the plan as of now could lead to a “soured public.”

City Service Safety Director Paula Horan-Moseley stepped in to ask the public to listen to the team’s ideas and allow the process to continue.

“We’re here to listen and we need this input,” Horan-Moseley said.

Residents expressed disdain when Hall presented features the pool could include, such as giant water buckets, lazy rivers, and floating obstacle courses. The design team had taken a poll of children at a summer camp at the recreation center to see what they wanted in a pool, and the answer was a resounding “yes” to water slides.

The attendees, though, said the ideas from the children should be taken into account after those of the adults. One man even offered the idea of starting a fund for a second pool, to allow for more options.

“I’m not seeing what I love about the pool, which is four lanes,” said Connie Thayer-Wolf. “I’m concerned that (the pool is) going to be full of…stuff.”

One resident said voters “approved a pool, not a water park.”

Hall tried to allay concerns, telling the community the Tuesday workshop was a way for the design team to gather more information and see what the needs of the city were.

“The beauty of this is the site can grow,” Hall said.

Hall called the timeline for the pool “aggressive,” saying the team was aiming to finish the pool by the next pool season, barring severe weather events.

The architectural team said they would be taking the comments from the community and including them when they make a schematic design for the pool. After renderings are created, the team will make a presentation to Athens City Council, Hall said. After council approval is obtained, design development will begin. Demolition of the current pool is scheduled to begin in September.