A group of neighbors fought City Hall to preserve the Olympic-sized Forest Park Pool, the only one of its kind in Fort Worth, and won.
The job isn’t done, though, some residents say. The city should expand this one-time investment in aquatics across the entire city to meet Fort Worth’s long unmet need for public pools, they contend.
Swimmers and advocates spent months pressuring District 9 Councilwoman Elizabeth Beck to add $3 million for Forest Park Pool to the upcoming bond, and it worked. The challenge was a baptism by fire, Beck said, but advocating to preserve the Olympic-sized lap pool and securing the money was well worth it in the end, she added.
Chris Reed, who started a petition to save Forest Park Pool, said he still hopes Beck goes beyond the task of a 50-meter pool “because the demolition of neighborhood pools is symptomatic of a culture in Fort Worth City Hall that has been so cost-conscious.”
Forest Park Pool is one of two pools provided by the city to serve over 900,000 people living in Fort Worth. A 2017 study found that 79% of children from low-income families have little to no swimming ability. This puts them at a greater risk of drowning, said Ricardo Avitia, co-founder of Hemphill No Se Vende that advocates against gentrification and informs residents living in the Hemphill corridor.
How many pools are in other major cities
Dallas with a population of 1,343,565: 17 pools
Austin with a population of 979,263: 33 pools
El Paso with a population of 681,729: 14 pools
Arlington with a population of 398,860: 8 pools
Fort Worth with a population of 913,656: 2 pools
“It just doesn’t make sense to demolish and rebuild a pool where an existing pool is versus adding additional pools to the city,” Avitia said.
Avitia remembers making the dangerous journey across busy roads on a bike to reach Forest Park Pool as a child. With the resources the city has, children should not have to endanger themselves to cool off in the summer, Avitia said.
Reed and Avitia aren’t alone in their criticism of city facilities. Availability of pools had the lowest satisfaction rating out of all the services Fort Worth Parks and Recreation provide. In the city’s most recent resident survey, 21% of residents said they were satisfied with the availability of pools where they live. Residents also rated availability of pools as the eighth-most important parks and recreation service.
“They’ve pivoted fairly well from brushing people off from actually listening,” Reed said of the city’s response to concerns about Forest Park Pool. “But I’d like them to take the next step forward without having to be pushed”
Residents across Fort Worth will have the opportunity to ask elected officials about their priorities at upcoming community meetings about the city’s bond. Here is a schedule of when you can come and make your voice heard:
6 – 8 p.m, Monday, March 21, City Hall Council Chamber and virtual
6 – 8 p.m, Wednesday, March 23, Riverside Community Center, 3700 E. Belknap St
6 – 8 p.m, Thursday, March 24, Chisholm Trail Community Center, 4936 McPherson Blvd.
6 – 8 p.m, Monday, March 28, Golden Triangle Library, 4264 Golden Triangle Blvd.
6 – 8 p.m, Thursday, March 31, Como Community Center, 4660 Horne St.
6 – 8 p.m, Monday, April 4, Worth Heights Community Center, 3551 New York Ave.
6 – 8 p.m, Thursday, April 7, Northwest Library, 6228 Crystal Lake Drive
6 – 8 p.m, Monday, April 11, East Regional Library, 6301 Bridge St.
6 – 8 p.m, Wednesday, April 20, McDonald YMCA, 2701 Moresby St.
10 a.m. – noon, Saturday, April 23, Handley Meadowbrook Community Center, 6201 Beaty St.
6 – 8 p.m, Monday, April 25, Rockwood Park Golf Clubhouse, 1851 Jacksboro Hwy
The next steps
The tone of the Feb. 10 Forest Park Pool design meeting was very different from the spirited meeting held at the historic pool in September, council member Elizabeth Beck said.
“I mean I got booed last time. … This was a very different tone,” Beck said after the meeting.
The design, which satisfied most meeting attendees, was the result of a “Herculean effort,” said one resident who has advocated to preserve some of the historic features of the pool.
Neighbors still have some lingering concerns about the historic preservation of structures and the removal of trees. Avid swimmers who want to use the pool year-round hoped the city would budget for pool heating. The cost of heating an Olympic-sized pool made the request impractical, Beck said.
“You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need. That’s my message,” Beck said.
The city hired Brinkley Sargent Wiginton Architects to design and build the new pool. They are required to have conversations with the community throughout the months-long design process, Steve Cook, department head of property management, said.
The proposed redesign will update the 50-meter pool and add a wading pool that slopes to a depth of 3 feet and features a waterslide to the property. Designers will refine the plan before the design is finalized in October. Meeting attendees voted between two different potential layouts and architectural styles.
Preserving the 50-meter pool will benefit competitive swimmers who rent out the pool to practice, Chuck Burr, who coaches the Ridglea Masters Swim Team, said. He hopes their victory will extend outward to benefit residents who hope to use the pool for swim lessons and hydrotherapy.
Burr is for expanding the availability of pools across Fort Worth. He hopes the success of Forest Park Pool will prove to the city that pools aren’t only a public safety necessity; they are also a good investment.
“It has to be managed correctly,”Burr said. “And, if it is, I think in the future there will be more pools opening up because it can be profitable. It not does not operate in the red.”
Residents concerned with changes to Forest Park Pool are uniquely situated to successfully advocate for their needs, Reed and Avitia said. The neighborhoods surrounding Forest Park Pool, like Mistletoe Heights and Park Hill, have an average household income of about $140,000.
“They are very organized. They know what they’re doing,” Avitia said. “They have very educated people in those neighborhoods to organize and get things done.”
Residents living around the Hemphill corridor often don’t have the time or resources to attend community meetings where they can advocate for their needs, Avitia said. Hemphill No Se Vende was created precisely to fill that gap, he said, and access to pools is one demand on a long list of the unmet needs plaguing low-income neighborhoods.
“When you have mouths to feed and you’re trying to teach children how to use the computer so that they can do their work online, the last thing on your mind is a pool,” Avitia said. “So, unfortunately, we just are not able to make it to those spaces, even though we would like to and we would like to speak up for ourselves.”
Avitia also lives in Beck’s district. He believes she understands the wide disparities in her own district but has been unable to address them despite her progressive views.
“Beck understanding the disparities raises the question as to why there isn’t more being done to bring additional aquatic services to the city? Wherever they may be, not just District 9, but anywhere in the city.”
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.