Peering through the chain-link fence, I was reminded that the pool and its surroundings were quality facilities. I saw that the pool was filled with water (to keep the structure intact) in its main area and in the 3-foot-deep area on one side. Also visible were a diving board, concrete decking, the entry building that houses pool equipment and shade structures, all surrounded by grass and nearby trees.
Of course, as at least some Tracyites will recall, the pool has been closed for three years — since 2009.
That reality, which became more apparent to me recently as discussions about the need for an aquatic center continued, prompted me a month ago to ask some questions about the pool, its condition and its future.
My questions about Joe Wilson Pool:
1. What’s wrong with it?
2. What would it take to bring it back to life?
3. Are there city funds available for a pool-restoration project?
With the assistance of city staffers, especially Assistant City Manager Maria Hurtado, I have received answers to my questions.
1. The pool building needs to be repaired and some equipment needs to be replaced; the deck needs to be replaced to bring it up to American with Disabilities Act compliance; the diving board needs to be replaced; repairs are needed for the drainage system; and control fencing needs to be improved.
It should be noted that the pool, after encountering pump problems in 2008 and being closed for more than a month that summer for repairs, was operational at the beginning of 2009, when the decision was made not to open it that summer.
In addition to the need for facility improvements, the principal reason it was closed — as cited by city staffers — was that the city, in a cost-cutting effort during the economic downturn, didn’t want to operate two recreational swimming facilities at the same time: the Wilson Pool and the Pinkie Phillips Aquatic Center at nearby West High School.
2. The cost estimate most often cited by city pool consultants to bring the Wilson pool up to standard for continued use is $1.9 million. Sometimes that figure is rounded off to $2 million. The cost of replacing the existing pool, which has odd dimensions, with a standard 25-meter competition pool is estimated at $4.4 million. A 50-meter Olympic-sized pool would take $9.2 million.
3. At one time, there were city funds to restore Joe Wilson Pool, but no longer. About two years ago, when the City Council studied capital improvement needs for the next five years, the city staff presented three options for pressing capital-project needs.
Restoring Wilson pool was initially among the five top-priority projects that had sufficient city funding, totaling $7.1 million from several funding sources. (The others were a new fire station to replace Banta firehouse, playground improvements in a number of parks, a new animal shelter and a police firearms-training facility.)
The City Council wrestled with these and other possible projects at an April 3, 2012, workshop and then held a special council meeting later that month. After a lengthy discussion at the meeting— and I’ll have to say the council really spent time and energy on this — the $1.9 million for Joe Wilson Pool restoration was eliminated and set aside instead for the city’s share of the costs of the proposed aquatics center. Councilman Steve Abercrombie’s motion was approved unanimously.
End of answers.
It should be noted that architects designing the first phase of the aquatics center didn’t include a 52-meter competition pool in the $15 million project. Included were three water slides, a “lazy river,” shallow activity pool, a wet play structure and a “sprayground.” A 52-meter pool along with a “flow rider” and a recreation-swim lesson pool were later tacked on as several possible “additives.” When the first phase would be built and when a second phase would follow is not known.
Right now, the city is awaiting proposals for an aquatics center from Wild Rivers, which would operate a commercial facility, and The Surland Cos., the residential-development firm which earlier offered 20 acres and $10 million for an aquatics center in its Ellis project.
We’ll have to see what those proposals offer. A hearing is scheduled in March.
In the meantime, I think the city should take another look at restoration of Joe Wilson Pool as a cost-effective and time-saving way of providing a community pool well suited for recreational swimming and swim lessons.
That would allow the Pinkie Phillips Aquatic Center at West High, with its 50-meter pool, to better serve the needs of local swim teams for year-round competitive swimming and water polo.
Some day, Tracy will have a new aquatics center. But when that will be and with what facilities, no one knows. For the immediate future, the Joe Wilson pool could be a useful facility in meeting Tracy’s water-recreation needs.
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or firstname.lastname@example.org.