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What’s the fate of 1950s-era elevated Boise pools? City studies options

The City of Boise hopes to hear from the public later this year about what to do with two of its oldest pools.

Late last year, while the city closed pools due to COVID-19, Boise Parks and Recreation hired a consultant to study the 1953-era Lowell Pool in the North End and South Pool, on the Boise Bench. That 82-page analysis from firm Cushing-Terrell Architects and California-based firm Aquatic Design Group found both to be in “overall poor condition” and out of compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. 

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No demolition in the works for now

The study found it would cost $2.4 million to get each individual pool up to code, which doesn’t include the cost to fix any structural issues, electrical upgrades, new pumps, or other changes to the aging facilities.

Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said the city plans to launch a public input process this fall to hear from the public how they would like the city to proceed. He said the city has not made any plans for the future and is open to a range of possibilities, including upgrading the pools, replacement facilities, or other options to preserve the history and “everything is on the table.”

“We have never said, will not say, and are not saying that South and Lowell will be permanently closed or would be demolished,” Holloway said. “That has never been said.”

Aging design poses problems

South and Lowell Pools have unique designs, which make them challenging to get up to code.

The pools are above ground, requiring visitors to climb a narrow stairway to reach the deck from the locker rooms and entrance located on the first floor. There is currently no way for someone in a wheelchair or with other mobility constraints to reach the pool deck, and once they are there, the pool deck is too narrow to install a lift to put them into the water. 

The depth of the pool also starts at 3 feet in the shallow end instead of a more steady increase in depth, which is challenging for swimmers who are not able-bodied. The assessment also found the possibility of asbestos in the wall insulation and lead paint in both facilities.

The City of Boise closed the two pools and the rest of the city’s swimming facilities during the pandemic, which allowed the engineers to study them for structural deficiencies.  The pools were not reopened in 2021 due to short staffing, Holloway said. South and Lowell pools are also two of the lowest attended pools in the Parks and Recreation system. 

Closures fueling rumors

The fate of the two pools has been a considerable source of speculation on social media in recent months. 

Rumors the city planned to demolish or permanently close them circulated on Facebook and Nextdoor, and petitions popped up on Change.org titled “Save Lowell Pool before it gets torn down” and “Save South Pool” with 1,049 and 818 signatures, respectively. 

Holloway said the city planned for the past few years for new pools in the 2023 and 2024 capital improvement plan to either upgrade or replace South and Lowell pool, but this is just a possible plan, and there are no set plans for the facilities. 

“That can change between now and 2023, and 2024 and those budgets could go away, but at this point in time, there are placeholders, but without knowing what the placeholders are for, it would be unfair to speculate that money gets spent on adding two new pools replacing pools, or using that money to reconstruct,” Holloway said. “We don’t have that information right now, and we won’t until we make our way through the public engagement process.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev senior reporter
Margaret Carmel is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at [email protected] or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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