Why Davis Needs to Renovate Its Pools

Community_PoolBy Kenneth Petruzzelli

Over the last several months, there has been much discussion in City Council meetings and in Davis media concerning the City pools, particularly whether to renovate the existing pools and whether to close Civic Pool and replace Community Pool with a 50-meter pool.

Framing discussion of Davis pools in terms of necessities versus luxuries creates a false dichotomy. Amenities such as pools are central to creating and maintaining community. Amenities make a city an attractive and enjoyable place to live. Given that people typically want to live where they work, civic amenities have never played a greater role in attracting businesses to a city and attracting talent to businesses.

In the coming months, as Davis again discusses how to invest money in its civic infrastructure, we hope the public will consider how pools and other amenities enrich our community.

Approximately 5,000 families use Davis pools during the summer. Of those users, over 2,000 participate in organized groups, including Davis Aquatic Masters, Davis Aquadarts, Davis Aquastarz, Davis Water Polo Club, and Davis High School’s swim and water polo teams year-round.

Davis currently has four public pools that accommodate these groups – Civic, Community, Arroyo, and Manor. However, only Civic is centrally located and capable of supporting year-round, high volume use.

Community Pool, although centrally located, closed in 2011 and now operates in a very limited capacity under a public-private partnership with the Davis Aquadarts.

Arroyo and Manor are primarily recreational facilities that operate seasonally. The heater at Arroyo Pool cannot maintain adequate water temperatures in the winter if the pool is uncovered for more than a few hours a day.

Manor Pool has a strong heater, but lacks adequate bathrooms, showers, and locker rooms for winter use.

During the summer, the user groups rely on Schaal Pool at UC Davis for both long-course training and additional space. However, demand is high and university uses take priority over community uses.

It may seem that Davis has a wealth of pools, but this appearance reflects the continued operations of Civic Pool. The Aquadarts have a waiting list in the summer and this year had to turn away 60-70 children. Without Civic or Community Pool, the Aquadarts would have turned away several hundred children.

The City built Civic Pool and Community Pool at least 40 to 50 years ago and last renovated these pools about 30 years ago. Both have significant deferred maintenance needs, with many important infrastructure items, such as heaters and filters, long past their expected service life and long overdue for replacement.

As a result, operations are unreliable, operations are expensive, and repairs more expensive. Existing infrastructure at these the pools is so outdated that substantial investment is required to bring these facilities up to code simply to address current maintenance needs. For example, in November 2013, Civic Pool’s heater broke, preventing use by any group during the six-week lag to repair.

Due to prohibitive costs associated with the permitting and facility upgrades required for the installation and operations of modern heaters, the old heater was specially built to order at significant cost. City staff estimate that renovating Civic Pool will cost $3 million and renovating Community Pool will cost $4 million.

After Community Pool closed in 2011, city staff and representatives from the aquatic user groups started working together to decide what to do with Community Pool. The City hired the Aquatic Design Group to assist in planning and development (see Community Pool Feasibility Study).

The Community Pool Feasibility Report presented three options: Option 1, a competition complex with a 50-meter pool and a 25-yard warm-up pool, would cost $9 million. Option 2, a hybrid recreation and competition complex with a 35-meter competition pool, activity pool, and a splash pool with slides, would cost $8 million; and. Option 3, a recreation facility with a lazy river, an activity pool, a 25-yard lap pool, and a splash pool with slides, would cost almost $11 million.

The Aquatic Design Group met with user groups (Community Pool Feasibility Report, Appendix 1) and other members of the community (Community Pool Feasibility Report, Appendix 2) and conducted surveys (Community Pool Feasibility Report, Appendix 3).

The survey results and meetings with user groups and other members of the community overwhelmingly favored a competition-focused 50-meter pool, so much so that the Aquatic Design Group had a hard time believing the results.

Not one survey respondent felt that Davis had sufficient pool space for lap swimming, fitness, or competition, and a majority indicated that Davis had more than sufficient pool space for aquatic recreation and swim lessons (Community Pool Feasibility Report, Appendix 3).

Unfortunately, the feasibility report had a number of shortcomings. Most significantly, it evaluated each option in isolation. Only Option 1 would meet the needs of all aquatic user groups. Option 1 would allow the City to close Civic Pool, eliminating the need for its renovation and providing the opportunity for the City to sell the property.

The analysis of Option 1 does not, however, consider the possibility of closing Civic Pool or how selling the Civic Pool site could offset both the construction costs and the long-term maintenance costs of Option 1. Options 2 and 3, by comparison, would require keeping Civic Pool open and renovating the facility, effectively increasing the net cost of Option 2 and Option 3 by $3 million each.

After the Aquatic Design Group completed the Community Pool Feasibility Study, City staff brought in a second consultant, the Sports Management Group, to facilitate further discussions to address some of the shortcomings in the Community Pool Feasibility Study and to develop operating estimates that better reflected how the groups such as the Davis Aquatic Masters and Davis Aquadarts used the pools. City staff and also started discussing potential public-private partnership arrangements to operate a pool more cost effectively.

The 2012 Davis Master Parks Plan reinforced the role of pools in the City. Davis residents were asked in a telephone survey to rank six facility types in order of importance. Pools ranked fifth behind neighborhood parks, walking and hiking trails, greenbelts, and open space. (2012 Davis Master Parks Plan, p. 1) Unlike the latter four types of facilities, user fees can support the pools.

During Civic Pool’s shutdown from December 2013 through much of January 2014, the aquatic user groups renewed their encouragement of the City to adequately maintain the pools and to either renovate the existing pools or replace them with a new pool. The aquatic user groups still believe that a 50-meter pool is the best option for Davis and are willing to pay their fair share.

The sum of that fair share and the contribution mechanism has not yet been determined. However, in addition to accommodating all of the user groups, a 50-meter pool would benefit the community as a whole.

First, it can provide year-round opportunities for adults to improve their health and fitness through lap swimming. Second, it can benefit the community by hosting aquatic competitions that would attract visitors from outside Davis. To illustrate, in 2007, Roseville’s aquatic center hosted five swim meets. The smallest generated $83,000 of economic activity for Roseville, whereas the largest generated $270,000 in economic activity.

Sustainable operation of Civic and Community Pool is no longer viable and a long-term solution must be found. If the community wishes to keep the pools open, it must choose between renovating the current pools and replacing them with a single 50-meter pool. The outcome will need to meet the needs of the community for a minimum of 20 to 30 years.

The City Council once again will consider a revenue measure, such as a parcel tax, at the end of the year to fund roads, parks, pools, and other infrastructure in the City of Davis. In the interim, the aquatics community is working with City staff to consolidate all of the information about the pools and possible future options so that both the public and members of the City Council can make a fully informed decision.

Kenneth Petruzzelli is a licensed attorney who has advised nonprofits and public agencies. He first joined the Davis Aquatic Masters for more than twenty years ago and presently serves on its Board of Directors.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. New Davisite

    Persuasive argument. Now – raise fees on users before you raise taxes for only property owners!! How many of the users live in apartments or rental homes? How many from outside the community? You can’t keep raising and raising taxes… has to be a balance somewhere! You are pricing people out of Davis.

    1. David Greenwald

      I understand the balance argument – and I’m not weighing in whether we should raise taxes for a pool – but the city of Davis has only raised taxes (as opposed to fees and water rates) once in the last decade – adding an addition half cent tax to people’s sales tax. The impact of that tax? If you spend $10,000 on taxable goods in a year in Davis, you will pay $50 more than you did before. That’s not a huge impact. A parcel tax on roads may raise taxes by $50 a year, a parcel tax on roads and pools and other infrastructure might be $100 a year. That’s not a huge amount of money and is unlikely to tax people out of Davis.

      1. Mark West

        DG: “A parcel tax on roads may raise taxes by $50 a year, a parcel tax on roads and pools and other infrastructure might be $100 a year. That’s not a huge amount of money and is unlikely to tax people out of Davis.”

        A $50 parcel tax is insufficient to cover the road deficit and will only slow the rate of deterioration of our roads, passing the bulk of the costs of repair on to future generations. The $50 amount was not derived from any analysis of meeting the unmet need, but after polling data indicated it was an amount that might pass. Your talking about it here as if it were sufficient is no less dishonest than CC & Staff putting road repair into the ‘unmet needs’ category and declaring the budget balanced.

        I would favor voting on a tax to cover the construction of a new 50M pool complex as long as the users of that complex cover 100% of the operational costs including any ongoing maintenance, repair and City employee compensation. Voting on that pool tax however should only come after we have secured our unmet infrastructure needs through sufficient tax increases and/or increased revenues through economic development.

        1. David Greenwald

          My point was to throw out numbers that were less than scary that we might see. However, the $50 amount is relatively close to the B-modified option that was developed last year. I haven’t seen the exact analysis on how much it would take to finance the B-modified option, but it is relatively low. $100 and $150 are options that would encompass more than just roads. I’m in agreement with you that $50 is too low overall and that the B-modified option sells us well short at 63 PCI, but it wasn’t nearly as ad hoc as you suggest. I also differ with Brett Lee in that I don’t think we get a second bite at the apple and would prefer we lay the groundwork for what we need rather than for what we can get.

          1. Anon

            I have to disagree with your last statement in reference to Council member Brett Lee. I personally think he had it right. From what I can tell, the only parcel tax that has a chance of passing is a $50 per year parcel tax for road repairs. As soon as you add the pools into the mix, that is where citizen resistance comes from, because they see pools as a “want” rather than a “need” like road repairs. I suspect you need to do a more extensive parcel tax in increments, i.e. $50 this year for say two years, then consider revisiting the issue and increasing it to $75, etc. That is what was done with the $32 per year “Landscaping and Lighting District” some years ago, which morphed into something entirely different and more expensive in so far as I am aware.

          2. Davis Progressive

            ” the only parcel tax that has a chance of passing is a $50 per year parcel tax for road repairs.”

            you don’t think an outreach campaign can move the polls 8-9% in several months from the 58% level to the 67% level? we see it all the time. if we take a $50 parcel tax we are accepting low level of street maintenance and we are accepting that none of the rest of the infrastructure is repaired.

    2. Mr. Toad

      Its not the marginal increases that tax people out its the high cost of housing itself that make it prohibitively expensive for people to come here. Lack of new housing supply over the last 15 years has done more to increase the cost of living in Davis for newcomers than all local taxes combined.

    3. Ken

      Fees would go up. for a 50-meter pool, City staff have suggested fees of $5/lane/hour for a short-course configuration, $13.75/lane/hour for a long-course configuration, and $5k for a weekend swim meet, although it is unclear whether that weekend swim meet rental amount is for a single weekend day or for an entire weekend (City Staff wasn’t sure). This is much more than user groups pay at the other pools. The City would also likely raise fees if it renovated the current pools, but there has been no word on what those fees might be. City staff have also suggested a fee structure pegged to CPI that would go up every year.

    1. Ken

      The aquatic user groups can and will fundraise. However, only now is the process getting to the point that the groups have a specific idea of what they are fundraising for.

  2. wdf1

    When I first quickly glanced the headline of this article this morning, I read it as, “Why Davis Needs to Renovate its Schools”, and a thousand ideas flooded my head.

    Well, never mind. Maybe another day…

  3. TrueBlueDevil

    This author argues the side of local Master’s swimmers, but nowhere does this highly educated individual give us a verifiable estimate to the yearly cash flow, positive or negative, of such a large pool.

    I believe that Athletic Business Magazine put the most favorable estimate as a pool costing $500,000 a year to maintain (negative cash flow). That’s the best case scenario.

    I also take issue with the estimates of how much a swim meet supposedly generated the city of Roseville, as you’d have to look at all of the assumptions that go into these figures.

  4. TrueBlueDevil

    It seems like a 5-meter pool can be a vanity project; smaller pools can probably be built and maintained for less.

    Article: Municipal Aquatics Providers Seek Right Mix of Competition and Leisure


    “That discord is perhaps best exemplified in the 50-meter, Olympic-size pool, which is both a passionate rallying point for competitive swimming advocates and a notorious drain on a park and rec agency’s annual operating budget.”

    I also found the USA Swimming estimates of 25- and 50-meter pools to be much less than what the city estimates. An explanation would be nice.

    I’d think a 25-meter, 10-lane pool should be a more viable option, if rehabbing the current pools is really cost prohibitive.


    1. Will Portello

      The downside of building a 25-meter pool is that it would require rehab of Civic, because a 25-meter pool keeps a modified version of the status quo (2 25 meter pools, which are insufficient to meet demand). We then have the costs of operating two facilities, maintaining two physical plants, and paying staff to oversee two separate sites.

      On your final link, there’s a reference that many people overlook. That’s a 50-meter configured “cross-ways” through lane lines into a 23-lane 25-meter. That exceeds the capacity of two 25-meter pools (and during non-winter months, Arroyo’s 25-meter is occasionally available). A consolidation of the equivalent of two pools at a single site, rather than paying for the construction of one “less-than-optimum,” while also paying for a rehab at Civic, and then maintaining and operating two facilities.

  5. tribeUSA

    I would be interested in seeing a breakdown of the costs associated with rehabilitating the current pools, $3-$4 million seems excessively high except if the pool foundations themselves are unstable and the entire pool needs to be ripped up and replaced. Heater and filter systems, chemical additive systems, piping and pumps etc. are not that expensive surely? Also, who made these estimates; were they made by independent experts with nothing to gain from repairs?

    1. TrueBlueDevil

      Good questions.

      My one guess on what makes it tricky is, say, pipes. If these old pools have cast iron pipes, is it possible to upgrade them?

      There have to be companies out there that specialize in rehabbing old pools at a fraction of the cost.

      Do any of these plans also include a building to make the facility year round?

    2. Ken

      City staff should have a more detailed cost breakdown in 2-3 weeks. Unfortunately, the City kept poor records. This is further complicated by multiple departments handling maintenance, repair, and replacement over the last 30 years.

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