TUSCALOOSA, AL — The City of Tuscaloosa is set to move forward on $350,000 in much-needed improvements to the Bowers Park pool, with the goal of getting the facility back operational by Memorial Day.
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The decision comes after extensive debate among the city, Tuscaloosa County Park & Recreation Authority (PARA) and the Tuscaloosa County Commission over the future of the pool. While some mention has been given to investing millions of dollars to upgrade the pool to a large-scale aquatic center — namely by those on the Commission — the Tuscaloosa City Council this week opted instead to fund immediate improvements.
As Patch reported in November, the Tuscaloosa County Commission heard a separate funding request from PARA for $250,000 for the repairs, which was met with a mix of skepticism and support that still fell short of approving additional funding. This ultimately failed to garner any support and prompted debate over a large-scale replacement of the pool to allow for additional upgrades, as opposed to spot repairs.
Mayor Walt Maddox said during Tuesday’s Council Finance Committee meeting that the reluctance to immediately fund an ambitious aquatic center at Bowers Park settles on the procurement period for anywhere from $10 million to $20 million that would be needed to fund such an endeavor. For instance, if the city had opted to use funding from the American Rescue Plan, the mayor speculated that the pool repairs would not be finished until fall at the earliest.
“This money is not going to jeopardize future projects is what we’re trying to say,” Maddox said. “But if we want to get this done, this is probably going to be the best source of money without any federal entanglements that will get the pool open by Memorial Day.”
Conversely, the round of funding approved by the Council’s committees on Tuesday will likely be secured by April.
While funds from the American Rescue Plan were considered, City of Tuscaloosa Chief Financial Officer Carly Standridge said the money would come from contingency funds set aside to cover overages on different PARA capital projects funded by the city.
More specifically, the funding will come from the city’s allocation of Alabama Trust Fund, which is revenue generated from the state government by its oil and mineral rights. These funds are then distributed to cities and counties based on population, with fluctuating amounts based on the total amount collected by the state.
As Standridge pointed out, the amount is typically between $800,000-$900,000, with the city annually committing $500,000 toward bond issuances for PARA, while the remainder can be only be applied to qualifying capital projects such as the proposed improvements to Bowers Park.
PARA Executive Director Gary Minor underscored the demand placed on the pool, which served approximately 13,000 individuals during its last season. With that level of wear and tear, Minor said the pool has leaking and needs to be resurfaced, in addition to electrical issues, problems with its mechanical room and other plumbing issues.
He then said previous estimates had those repairs priced at approximately $300,000, but the increase in material costs and labor prompted the request for more funding.
District 6 Councilman John Faile, whose district shares Bowers Park with Cassius Lanier’s District 7, said the past year saw the Bowers Park pool languish in disrepair, especially after it was not used during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Children from all over Tuscaloosa use this pool,” Faile said. “I’m excited we can get it open, but we need to move quickly because we want to get it open by Memorial Day.”
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This article originally appeared on the Tuscaloosa Patch