Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Challenge of Renovating Historic Aquatic Facilities: How the Dallas Park & Recreation Department Is Preserving Community History and Memories

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Challenge of Renovating Historic Aquatic Facilities: How the Dallas Park & Recreation Department Is Preserving Community History and Memories

Article excerpt

How many times have you heard, "You can't tear that pool down, that's where I learned to swim 50 years ago!" People grow attached to the institutions that mark major milestones in their lives. Communities develop sentimental attachments to their local parks. And, even though these facilities may be obsolete, both physically and programmatically, it is difficult for the public to imagine them changing from the way they live in memories.

A Little History

One of the few things that make summer in Texas bearable is swimming, so it's no surprise that the city of Dallas has a long pool history that started with the first "neighborhood" pool, dating back to the 1920s and ending with the last "community" pool built in 1978. At the peak of the pool boom, Dallas operated a system of 107 pools--84 neighborhood pools and 23 community pools. Coinciding with the boom in facilities, attendance began a dramatic decline in the late 1970s and continued throughout the 1980s, resulting in the closure of many of the neighborhood pools. Major changes in the Texas Health Code forced the closure of the remaining neighborhood pools in 1999.

In 2001, the city determined that an aquatic master plan was needed to address the replacement of physically obsolete aquatic facilities and to improve the overall level of service to the public in a financially sustainable way. While the master plan laid out a strategy for the future of the Dallas aquatics system, no action was taken because of a lack of available funds. With the economic downturn in 2007 and 2008, the park department faced shrinking operating and capital improvement budgets, which led to the closure or limited operating hours of the remaining community pools. Some of the aged pools (oldest 1947; newest 1978) were patched up to keep operating, while others were literally cannibalized for parts. Uncertainty about which pools were open and the limited operating hours led to further decreases in pool attendance.

After Dallas began to recover from the economic downturn of 2008, pools once again became a top priority for the park department. Surrounding municipalities began to build new aquatic centers, and the disparity between the facilities in Dallas and those in neighboring communities became even more evident. Dallas was losing swimmers to the suburbs, where they could enjoy modern amenities, including moving water, interactive play elements, varying depths for different age groups, areas for swim lessons, swim teams, shade structures, updated bathhouses and concessions.

A new aquatics master plan was commissioned in 2012 to determine the feasibility of developing a system of more economically sustainable family aquatic centers throughout the city. With the strong support of the park and recreation board, $32 million was identified for construction of new aquatic facilities, which was followed by an update to the master plan intended to map out how best to use the available funds. Three years later, a team of planners, architects, engineers and aquatic consultants were assembled to implement the aquatics master plan. To provide an equal level of service for the three regions of the city, the adopted master plan proposed a phase one consisting of three regional family aquatic centers, two community family aquatic centers, one neighborhood family aquatic center and three spray grounds. Due to the availability of funding and operational logistics, the master plan was split into two construction packages, starting with the regional centers in the first year (opening in 2018), followed by the community, neighborhood and spray ground facilities in the second year (opening in 2019).

While most of the new aquatic centers will involve the total demolition and replacement of existing pools, two that are in well-established, historic parks required a different approach. Samueli Grand Park and Tietze Park are in older neighborhoods, minutes from downtown Dallas. …

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