Of the four outdoor pools operated by Columbus Consolidated Government — Shirley Winston, Psalmond Road, Rigdon and Double Churches — two are in such bad condition that city officials are now scrambling to get them in shape before swim season begins.
The two pools that need immediate attention are Psalmond Road and Shirley Winston.
On Tuesday, Columbus Council approved $500,000 for the emergency repairs after listening to a presentation by Assistant Parks and Rec Director Becky Glisson.
Glisson said both pools have significant leaking problems. The Psalmond Road swimming pool appears to have a leak in the return piping from the gutter system. The Shirley Winston pool appears to be leaking from the main return drains at the deep end of the pool and will not hold water.
The estimated cost is $150,000 to $200,000 to repair Psalmond Road and $200,000 to $250,000 to repair Shirley Winston, Glisson said. The projects could cost more depending on what contractors discover once they dig up the pools to determine why they are leaking.
City Manager Isaiah Hugley said the Parks and Recreation Department doesn’t have a funding source for the repairs. So he would look at the Parks and Rec budget to see if a portion of the money could come through salary savings. If not, the $500,000 would have to come out of the city’s fund balance.
The fund balance is currently at 63 days, which is just slightly above the 60-day threshold at which bond rating companies begin to consider lowering a city's bond rating.
“We would probably use as much as one day of fund balance if their numbers are accurate and on point,” he said. “If it’s not as much as they project, then it would not be quite a day. But if it’s more than they project it would be slightly more than a day.
“I do agree with you that our community expects to have these swimming facilities open and we need to do something,” he said. “Timing could not be worse as we are in the budget prep process, and we’ve got a lot of requests, and it’s going to take a lot of effort to present a balanced budget, but we will.”
The estimated time frame for both projects is two to three months, which would be very close to the Memorial Day Weekend opening date, Glisson said. And there’s a possibility that the city won’t even meet that deadline.
Neither pool can be opened without the necessary repairs, she explained.
“Both of these being closed, we can either try to get them repaired in time if we can come up with the funds, or we can just try to open (Double Churches or Rigdon pools) only,” she said. “And then, of course, we have the Aquatic Center that we can try to send people to.”
Glisson said Parks and Rec administrators learned Monday that there are also problems at the Double Churches swimming pool, but they believe those repairs can be handled in-house. The pool is already drained.
After hearing the presentation, Mayor Pro Tem Evelyn Turner Pugh expressed alarm over the situation.
“What can we do?” she asked Hugley. “This is an emergency, because if we don’t open these pools, we have problems.”
Saying that he recognized the importance of pools to the community and councilors, Hugley recommended using fund balance to make the necessary repairs.
The expense comes after the city spent over $576,000 on the Rigdon, Shirley Winston and Psalmond Road facilities in 2016 to bring them up to date, according to Glisson. In January 2017, repairs were performed on Shirley Winston to fix leaking, costing the city $50,000, she said.
Pugh said it’s worth spending the $500,000 to address the current problems “because we’re either going to use it here or use it someplace else.”
Councilor Judy Thomas asked when the city would stop putting “Band-Aids” on the problem.
“I noticed that the Shirley Winston pool, we spent a good bit two years ago,” she said. “Is this typical that it would need this kind of major repair in two years? I’m trying to get to the point of when do we stop putting Band-Aids on these things, and fix them so we don’t have to come back every two years and spend another $200,000.”
Hugley said the city spent $2 million to construct the pools in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The facilities are approaching 20 years in terms of age. They are currently on an F list produced by Lisa Goodwin a few weeks ago, he pointed out.
“... You’re right, we have spent more than I would like to spend every other year on aging pools,” he said. “... But it takes time to construct major facilities like this. And you’ve got to have a funding source to completely redo, renovate, or build new facilities like this. And we’re going to have to talk about something like a Special Options Sales Tax if we’re going to be able to get this done as we go forward.”