Fort Worth resident James Steffensen summed up the passion driving Thursday night’s community meeting about replacing the Forest Park Pool.
“We all want Fort Worth to be a great city,” Steffensen said, adding that a great city deserves world class public pools.
The crowd of roughly 70 people gathered to hear a presentation from the Fort Worth Parks and Recreation Department and District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck about the proposed replacement pool design. Beck, who was elected to the council in a June 5 runoff, said the Forest Park Pool has been her constituents’ biggest concern since the day she took office.
Speaking to the Star-Telegram’s editorial board Wednesday, Beck said she organized Thursday’s meeting in response to her constituents’ concerns as well as to combat what she called misinformation about the proposed design plans of the new complex.
Assistant City Manager Valerie Washington, who also took part in the call Wednesday, drew attention to the mis-characterization of a section of the pool as a “splash pad.”
The splash pad controversy stemmed from a schematic of the proposed pool design showing a 25-meter four-lane pool next to a smaller leisure pool. The city says that a splash pad has no depth, and that the proposed design of the smaller leisure pool will require a lifeguard, but many at the meeting Thursday saw this as a distinction without a difference.
Beck emphasized that the pool’s design is not final. She said community events like the one held Thursday night were intended to get community feedback, and find ways to include the public’s preferred design in the bond package, which the city council is anticipated to call an election for in May 2022.
Dorothy DeBose, a west-side precinct chair and former president of the Lake Como Neighborhood Advisory Council, was skeptical of the meeting’s intent.
“The city has made up its mind,” DeBose said. “This is what’s gonna be in the bond, and this is what you’re gonna get, now we want your input. That is not the right way to do it.”
DeBose was critical of Parks and Recreation Department director Richard Zavala’s assertion that the pool’s reduced size was an effort to make replacing it more affordable as laid out in the city’s 2012 Aquatics Master Plan.
Zavala told the editorial board a 2008 plan that would have allocated $65 million to build larger facilities didn’t garner the required support. Currently, the Forest Park Pool has eight lanes and is 50 meters long. The proposed pool design has half the lanes and half the length.
Zavala pushed back on assertions by the public that the new Forest Park Pool wouldn’t be able to hold swim lessons. He told the editorial board the pool design is the same as the one used at the William McDonald YMCA, which held 202 swim lessons this summer.
Beck acknowledged the public wants a deeper pool that would enable diving as well as one that would meet the Olympic standard of 50 meters in length. The current pool design limits the depth to roughly 4.45 feet.
Resident Charles Dreyfus asserted the lack of depth will make it impossible for the city to qualify lifeguards at public pools. He pointed to the city’s own list of qualifications, which require “a timed brick retrieval from a depth of 10 feet.”
Kelli Pickard, assistant director of the parks department’s recreation division, wrote in an email that the city holds lifeguard training every year starting in February at Texas Wesleyan University’s pool. She said those facilities meet the city’s standards for lifeguard training.
Both Zavala and Beck told the crowd Thursday that the city is working with a consultant to get estimates for pool designs with 50-meter length and increased depth.
Scott Penn, who’s managing the project for the city, said those estimates are expected in October, and will give the city an idea of how much extra money needs to be raised through private donations to build in those extra amenities.
Adelaide Leavens, a self-described friend of the pool, chaffed at the idea of having to raise additional non-public funding for the project, arguing the city could redirect money used to fund municipal golf courses.
“No one has ever died from not learning how to play golf,” Leavens said, drawing laughter and applause from the crowd. She and others argued the monetary constraints reflected a lack of ambition on the part of the city.
Zavala disputed that notion saying its his job to be a good steward of taxpayer money, and he has to balance the needs of the entire parks department.
“In my heart of hearts, if I could do that I would, but I have to be responsible for the whole system,” Zavala said.
Beck also said she would try to negotiate with other city council members to try to find extra funding for the project, but drew a line when it came to taking money from a second planned pool in Stop 6.
“I don’t know that we’ll get a solution that makes everybody happy, but I think that I’m working really hard to try to find a solution that will make most people happy,” Beck said.