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South and Lowell pools stabilized as plans to refurbish remain on hold

The City of Boise’s plans to either revamp or replace two historic pools are on hold due to lack of funds and its unknown when the project could start back up again. 

On Tuesday, Mayor Lauren McLean announced the 1950s-era South and Lowell pools would remain closed for the foreseeable future until price escalations, material costs and other factors driving up costs slow down. This comes after city staff estimated it could cost up to $12 million to refurbish both pools, which have structural damage after decades of use, or up to $24 million to build two entirely new pools on site. 

The announcement said the delay could last until 2025 when the market stabilizes and in the meantime, both pools have been fully winterized to ensure they do not incur any further damage while they are sitting unused. They have both been closed since 2020. 

“Mayor McLean is committed to getting Lowell and South Pools open as soon as possible,” a city statement sid. “However, due to the volatility in the construction market, rapidly rising costs, and bids that far exceeded the city’s budgeted costs, the mayor has decided that the market environment must improve before the next steps in this process can be determined.”

Boise City Council could choose to allocate more money to the Parks and Recreation major repairs and maintenance fund for the pools in the upcoming fiscal year 2024 budget cycle, but it’s unclear exactly what they will opt to do. 

‘Too many city priorities’

Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway told BoiseDev the project is so much over what is in the city’s budget for refurbishing the pools that staff have not done more in-depth studies to determine exact pricing yet. 

Holloway said with the market as volatile as it is and all of the demands for improvements in the Parks and Recreation budget, the city wants to wait until it’s secured more funding before planning more in-depth how to approach the project. He said they don’t even have enough information yet to present information for city council members to decide if they want to renovate the current pools or build new. 

“Our estimation is it’s probably around double of the budget we have or close to it per pool,” Holloway said. “We’re halfway there with the funding we have allocated at this point and we’ll need two and three million more for this project for each pool. We just don’t have that kind of option moving forward in the next couple of years.”

The possibility of philanthropic donations to help complete the project was discussed earlier this year, but the city hasn’t publicly pursued any donors and none of them stepped forward publicly to fund the project. The City of Boise could also choose to go out for a bond to fund the projects, but that possibility hasn’t been pitched by any council members or the mayor. 

Impact fees, which are collected from developers to help pay for growth, wouldn’t be able to pay for these pools because that funding can only be spent on amenities to respond to growth. That funding source cannot go toward repairing and replacing existing assets. 

Council members are mixed 

There seems to be little agreement among Boise City Council members about what course of action to take. 

City Council Member Jimmy Hallyburton said he heard “loud and clear” that the community wants to preserve these pools and one, if not both, should be revamped and brought up to code so they can continue to operate largely as they are. He said it will likely require a combination of the city waiting for the market to stabilize a little bit, putting additional city funds into the parks budget and donations to get it done.

“Let’s look at dedicating some additional funds, but figure out how we can leverage those funds from the city and individual donors and philanthropy,” he said. “There’s a huge potential for the city to work with philanthropic dollars to make those happen.”

City Council Member Patrick Bageant agrees with McLean and is not ready to move the money around in the budget to get the project online right now, noting the “huge amount” it would take. 

“That money would have to come at the expense of other important things in the city, and it’s pretty tough to justify,” he said. “So, the Mayor’s proposal to wait until more funding may be available and the market stabilizes also makes sense to me.”

City Council President Pro Tem Holli Woodings said she’d like to wait and see what the department heads of the city bring forward for budget requests this coming year before she makes a decision. She said she trusts the city’s managers, and Holloway, to decide what level of priority the pools’ funding should have.

“As part of their process, it’s likely (the department heads) will sit down together and decide what makes sense in context of what the city needs,” she said. “It will be interesting to see if (the pools are) something that bubbles to the top for Parks or not.”

City Council Member Luci Willits said she is not in support of tearing the pools down to build something new, but she’s not sure yet what the timing should be on the project or if she supports adding more money to it in the upcoming budget cycle. She needs to “look at the budget as a whole” before making any decisions.

“My overall point is to maintain the pools as historic structures in a way that brings them up to code,” she said. “If we have to wait to do that, I’d rather wait and do it right than tear them down and not do it at all.”

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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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