Can University Park support a joint-use indoor aquatic center in Curtis Park or elsewhere? The better question might be whether the city chooses to support it.
The City Council heard the results of a feasibility study on Tuesday from a Colorado firm, which suggested that while the community demographics could support such a facility, there would be plenty of questions about logistics and operating costs.
The study, of course, stems from a proposal between UP and Highland Park ISD to build a natatorium that would house the swimming teams at Highland Park High School. The district hopes to eliminate its existing natatorium at HPHS in favor of additional classroom space as part of an upcoming bond initiative. The only site mentioned thus far has been Curtis Park, adjacent to the existing Holmes Aquatic Center.
The council didn’t take any action on Tuesday but will likely discuss the issue again on Jan. 20.
According to the 89-page report from Ballard King & Associates, the single-story building under consideration would cost about $16.7 million, would require space for both a competition pool and a leisure pool, and would consume up to 3 acres of land including parking and setbacks. That would be quite a squeeze for that park space.
From a financial perspective, it might also be problematic. The report estimates that such a facility would experience an annual shortfall of about $233,000 when comparing revenues to expenses. Such a revenue disparity is common for public pools of this sort, said Ken Ballard, president of Ballard King.
“There’s really not the ability to cover the cost of operation from revenues generated from the facility itself,” he said. “The fact that this facility would operate at a loss is not unusual.”
Ballard said the smaller leisure pool would provide about two-thirds of the revenue from the facility, since the main pool would be used so frequently by the school district for practices and meets. He also cited water depth and temperature as reasons for the second pool.
If the partnership proceeds, it’s likely that HPISD would pay for building the aquatic center while UP would provide the land and be responsible for its operation. But some issues would still need to be negotiated.
For example, Ballard estimated the need for about 120 new parking spaces to support the center. Yet it’s not known if those would be above or below ground, or who would pay for it, or how much that would cost. The funding source for potential capital replacement costs also hasn’t been determined.
The proposal has generated significant opposition from Save Curtis Park, a coalition of residents near the site who have expressed concerns about traffic, safety, parking, operational costs, and environmental impact.
UP Mayor Olin Lane said that if the city chooses to proceed with the idea, it would follow-up with a traffic study and environmental impact study on the affected neighborhood.
“These numbers look like we’re looking through these rose-colored glasses,” said UP resident Lon Houseman. “I think the city shouldering this burden is not what the residents want.”
HPISD has not publicly disclosed any alternative plans for a new natatorium if the Curtis Park proposal doesn’t pan out.