BREC to pull plugs on pools

The board that oversees East Baton Rouge Parish’s park system voted 8-1 Wednesday night to demolish swimming pools at two of its parks and replace them with playgrounds, a courtyard, lawn and other features.

The Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission also unanimously approved a $95 million budget for 2013 that includes a 2.6 percent increase in general fund spending.

Brett Weinberger, who oversees BREC’s aquatics program, said pools at Webb Memorial Park and Jefferson Highway Park have seen declining attendance numbers and increasing maintenance costs over the past several years, said

“On many days, the only one there is staff” at Webb, Weinberger said. “It costs us $54,000 to run the Jefferson Highway pool and $51,000 to run the Webb pool.”

Only the smaller of two pools at Jefferson Highway Park remained open in 2012, he said.

The other, larger pool at Jefferson Highway Park was closed in 2010 after BREC spent $70,000 trying to get it in working order, Weinberger said.

Webb Park’s pool was used this year by BREC and YMCA day camps, Weinberger said. Apart from the day camps, the Webb Park pool averaged about 14 patrons per day, he said.

Those parks are less than two miles from BREC’s Liberty Lagoon, Weinberger said. The day camps will be sent there next year, he said.

Larry Selders, who sits on the commission, questioned Weinberger and BREC Assistant Superintendent Dale Auzenne about the cost differences between Liberty Lagoon and Webb Park’s pool.

“It costs $1.25 to swim at BREC?” Selders asked. “And how much is it for Liberty Lagoon?”

Weinberger responded that it costs $8 for a youth ticket to the Liberty Lagoon water park.

Auzenne told Selders that the fee to enter Liberty Lagoon was a bargain.

“Look at what you are getting for the price,” he said. “A lot more amenities.”

Selders said he was concerned the difference in price may be prohibitive for low-income families.

Selders was the lone commissioner to vote against demolishing the pools.

Auzenne and Weinberger said the pools at Jefferson Highway Park will be replaced with a courtyard space that will complement the building on that site, which they said is a popular rental location.

At Webb Park, the pool will be replaced by a lawn, Weinberger said.

Renovations at Webb Park, which also will include new playground equipment, will cost about $340,000, BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack said.

The Friends of Webb Park, a community organization, has committed to raise funds to help offset the cost, he said.

Figures for the renovation at Jefferson Highway Park were not immediately available.

A 2005 audit of the parish’s public pools estimated it would cost between $1.2 million and $1.8 million to replace each pool, Weinberger said.

The renovation plans were presented at public meetings held earlier this year at each park, Weinberger said.

At Webb, only four out of 35 people who attended the public meeting in May objected to demolishing the pool, he said.

No similar number was available for Jefferson Highway Park, though Weinberger said, “There was little opposition to removing the swimming pools among those surveyed.”

The commission also approved unanimously a proposed $46.7 million operating budget after a public hearing.

The total budget, including all funds, is about $95 million, which includes $18 million in interfund transfers and $20 million for construction, BREC Finance Director Sheila Savoy said in November.

The 2013 budget includes no “significant increase” in staffing or merit raises for staff, she said.