Decision on South & Lowell pools on hold while city figures out how to pay

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The public spoke loud and clear about their high hopes for renovations at South and Lowell pools, but Mayor Lauren McLean and the Boise City Council want to make sure the city has all of its budgeting ducks in a row first before committing to a plan. 

At a work session on Tuesday, city council members heard a presentation from Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway and Facilities Program Manager Shawn Wilson about two concepts for how to revamp two of the city’s oldest neighborhood pools. South and Lowell pools date back to the early 1950s and have a unique two-story double-decker design. They have remained closed since 2020 while the city studied their condition and conducted extensive outreach with the public on what they hoped to see done with them. 

After council members and McLean heard two potential options for the pools, which could range from roughly $4 million to $6 million in 2022 dollars to renovate or replace they opted to take a different tack. Mayor McLean said city staff should work more on the design to nail down the possible prices for each pool to be reopened and return with a plan for how to pay for the projects, which are several million over the roughly $3 million allocated in the city’s budget for each pool in 2024 and 2025 respectively. The current price tags are estimated, and once final totals are in, the pools could cost as much as $12 million each.

McLean said this time to continue researching how to fund the projects and what is possible in the parks and recreation budget is also a time to build relationships with potential donors to help the city fill the funding gap. 

“This could be an opportunity while we figure out that gap to call on folks to join us in that effort, especially folks who are so in love that these pools they want to designate them as historic, perhaps they want to help us designate them again as usable by helping fund the future renovation,” she said. 

Out with the old? Or in the with the new?

Parks and Recreation staff came up with two proposals for how to reopen the pools for the council to consider. 

The first option, which was the most popular with the public, called for a top to bottom renovation of the existing pools to bring them up to code. This included resealing the concrete, new locker rooms, a new mechanical room, and ADA upgrades like an elevator and a device to lower users into the pool. This option is the slightly cheaper option of the two, falling closer to $4 million per pool in the range provided by city staff. 

City Council Members Lisa Sánchez, Jimmy Hallyburton, and Luci Willits favored this option. Hallyburton said he understands concerns about the accessibility concerns due to the pool going directly to a 3-foot depth instead of a gradual ramp entrance down into the pool like at the Natatorium, but these pools are most often visited by older children looking to cool off who can already swim. 

“I don’t see that big win (with a new pool),” he said. “If you told me the pools would have way more capacity and it would have a slide and other things I might change my mind, but when we’re talking about about the same footprint and about the same capacity the value of keeping something intact and the ability to do something cheaper it’s hard for me to look at a different route.”

The second option, which is leaning toward the $6 million end of the spectrum of cost estimates, would entail building entirely new pools on-site and maintaining the historic art deco-style entrances. These new pools would have “zero-depth” entrances, which means users could walk into the water and have it grow gradually deeper. The new pools would be roughly the same size and capacity as the existing ones, but would be configured in a traditional rectangle shape and be in-ground, instead of two stories. 

This was the option City Council Member Holli Woodings favored. She said the zero-depth entrance would make it more usable to young families and disabled visitors. 

“I’m really looking at it like ‘How much is it going to cost, and how can we get the most bang for our buck?’” she said. “I know these are beloved pools, and I know people have so many memories in them, but I don’t believe people cannot build positive wonderful memories in a new facility where we can preserve the historic pieces of that whilst building a more modern, functional facility.”

Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. Reporter
Margaret Carmel - BoiseDev Sr. 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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