A new aquatics master plan for the city of Lexington released Tuesday proposes building an indoor pool and two more family aquatic centers, upgrades to the city’s current pools, and new splash pads or “spraygrounds” in other parts of the city.
The city hired Brandstetter Carroll in May to look at short-term and long-term options to improve the city’s seven aging pools. Even after several pools were closed in recent years, the program continues to struggle. It has an operating budget of $1.2 million but generates only $600,000 in revenue. Attendance at the city’s pools has declined from 200,000 visitors in 2011 to 140,000 in 2014.
“We wanted to determine where the service gap areas are, and we wanted to determine the best places for future investment,” Monica Conrad, the city’s director of parks and recreation, said of the $150,000 aquatics master plan.
To stay competitive, the study said, the city needs to make its pools appeal to a broad section of the community. That’s why it’s important to add additional features to current pools.
“Our pools are great, but there is not a whole lot to do,” Conrad said.
In the short term, the study recommends that the city make some safety improvements, including repairing leaks and replacing shade structures at five of its pools. That would cost $227,000. The study also recommends upgrading and improving the city’s existing pools, including adding slides, spraygrounds and more shade. It also recommends turning Shillito pool into a regional aquatic center. That proposal would include adding a zero-depth entry pool for younger children, a sprayground, a lazy river and water slides. Shillito also would get a new poolhouse under the plan. Roughly 95 percent of the city’s population lives within 20 minutes of Shillito, off Reynolds Road. There is plenty of land available for the pool’s expansion and parking.
“You can keep the sprayground open even after you close the pool for the year,” said Patrick Hoagland of Brandstetter Carroll. Hoagland presented the plan Tuesday to the Urban County Council’s General Government and Social Services Committee.
The changes to the other pools would include upgrading Douglass to an aquatic center by adding zero-depth access, more water play features and a slide, and putting in a new poolhouse. “Without spending too much, we can make that a much more functional site,” Hoagland said.
Southland Aquatic Center is the city’s most-used pool and its most profitable. That’s largely because it already has slides and zero-depth entry for younger children. Proposed changes at Southland would include a new poolhouse with an area that people may rent for parties. Woodland would get more shade and a taller water slide. Hoagland said Woodland, the city’s second-most used pool, has limited space for expansion.
Many of the six proposed spraygrounds would be part of upgrades to existing pools. Two or three could be placed in areas that have no pools. Those places include Jacobson Park and Masterson Station.
In addition, the study recommended two new family aquatic centers in two underserved areas: on the city’s northwest side and on the northeast side. The price tag for two new aquatic centers would be about $10 million, or $5 million each. The study also recommended an indoor aquatics center. Conrad said that would be a long-term project that would require private and public funding. An indoor aquatics center would cost $15 million to $20 million. That center would include a 50-meter by 25-meter competition pool, a diving well, a warm-water therapy pool, locker rooms, and possibly cardio and fitness rooms.
“It is a significant expense,” Conrad said of both building and running an indoor aquatics center. “We talked to a lot of people in our therapeutic community, in our competitive swimming community and our senior community that said an indoor warm-water pool was needed.”
Hoagland said in other cities public-private partnerships have been successful in building and maintaining indoor aquatics center. “A lot of them operate at a deficit,” Hoagland said. “Something to look at closely with these types of facilities.”
Conrad emphasized that the study gives the city and the Urban County Council options to improve its pool program. The plan breaks down costs based on what the city wants to pursue. For example one package includes upgrading Castlewood and Douglass pools, putting two spraygrounds in underserved areas and designing Shillito. That package would cost $5.7 million.
The total cost for all the improvements would be $26 million. That does not include the $15 million to $20 million for an indoor aquatic center.
Councilwoman Angela Evans said she swam at Tates Creek pool growing up, and she understands pools’ value to the community. But Evans said she wanted to see more details about how much revenue the pools generate compared with overall expenses before making a decision on how much money to put into pools. Councilman Fred Brown also said that data in a recent audit showed a drop in the number of people going to the city’s pools.
“It shows pool attendance is down, and we are looking at spending a lot of money,” Brown said.
Bad weather and older pools also are driving down attendance, Hoagland said. Some pools have seen their attendance quadruple after adding more features, he said.
Councilman Kevin Stinnett said the city has closed two pools in recent years. “Now we want to build two new ones,” he said. “I think the priority needs to be in the areas that aren’t served at all.”
Councilwoman Peggy Henson said she liked the idea of adding splash pads to underserved areas, but building pools might be too costly. “I think we should upgrade the pools that we have,” Henson said.
The council was not asked to make a decision at the meeting Tuesday.
General Services Commissioner Geoff Reed told the council committee that he’ll make a recommendation in Mayor Jim Gray’s budget on what should be done first and what should be done in future fiscal years. Reed oversees parks and recreation. Gray typically releases his budget in April.
Hoagland said about 5,000 people gave input into the plan.
The pools have been included in several master park plans over the years, but the last aquatics master plan was completed in 1999.
Lexington aquatics master plan calls for:
▪ One regional aquatic center (upgrade at Shillito)
▪ Two new family aquatic centers
▪ Six new spraygrounds, including one or two stand-alone splash pads or spraygrounds
▪ Indoor aquatic center