In 2008, Fort Worth devised a plan to build nine new aquatic facilities and demolish dated existing pools. A year later, six pools were demolished, but no new pools were built in their place.
Today, the city lags behind similar-sized Texas cities in the number of public pools available to residents, with two public pools the city owns and operates. Now, city staff will develop a new plan to update the city’s aquatic resources.
The original master plan was updated in 2012 and meant to last 20 years, or until 2032. Recent renewed interest in aquatics, spurred on by a public campaign to increase funding for Forest Park Pool, moved up the timeline to revisit the plan.
The city is kicking off the master planning process by providing an updated count of the pools already available to the public.
“One of the things we got from a lot of public response to the 2022 bond program is the lack of pools,” said Joel McElhany, assistant director with the Parks and Recreation department.
The city should consider adding several smaller aquatic facilities after the construction of Forest Park Pool is completed, said Chuck Burr, head coach of the Ridglea/Masters Swim Team.
“I’m all for more public facilities for all the citizens of Fort Worth,” Burr said. “A million people should have more than one or two pools.”
The master plan process is scheduled to begin in 2024 and be officially adopted in 2026. The plan will include an inventory of pools, demographic analysis of users, comparisons with other similarly sized cities, input from an advisory committee and recommendations for new facilities with where they may be located.
The final plan will provide guidance and recommendations for future bond programs.
A list of current facilities is available today. Conducting a new inventory of public pools around the Metroplex will allow residents to find the public pool closest to them, even if it’s not owned by the city, McElhany said.
Fort Worth’s pools historically drown among other budget priorities
In 2012, the city rethought its 2008 master plan. The 2008 financial crisis and a lack of interest among residents meant the construction of new pools was stalled, McElhany said. New pools were simply never added to the city’s annual bond programs until 2022, despite the city’s stated goals.
Fort Worth’s lack of pools sticks out compared with other cities, and the reasons behind the city’s lack of investment varies.
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
After soliciting input from a citizens review committee, the city charted a more “realistic” path to add new aquatics facilities to the city’s existing pools. The 2012 plan recommended the city build neighborhood family aquatic centers, as the new standard for future pools.
Burr was one of a large group of people who advocated to increase the budget for Forest Park Pool by $3 million through the 2022 bond program. Swimmers in Fort Worth are a vocal, passionate group, he said.
That group is not alone in its dissatisfaction with Fort Worth’s aquatic facilities. A 2021 survey revealed only 21% of residents 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.
City staff and elected leaders heard those concerns, McElhany said.
Forest Park Pool is in the process of being demolished, with an improved facility expected to open by 2024. Residents advocated to preserve the 50-meter lap pool at the historic aquatic facility. The redesigned facility will also have a redesigned bathhouse.
The city is also working to build a new aquatic facility in east Fort Worth’s Stop Six community as part of a new $25.7 million community center. The pool will mark the first new, city-owned aquatic facility in Fort Worth since 1960.
Burr, who also owns Aloha Pool Service, knows the true cost of not only building but maintaining aquatic facilities.
“I would love to be able to have 15 swimming pools in Fort Worth like Austin does, but I don’t know how they do that, I know it’s not feasible,” Burr said.
In the meantime, Burr and the rest of the pool’s advocates will be anxiously awaiting the reopening of Forest Park’s facility — one of the only public lap pools in the city.
Rachel Behrndt is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com 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.