The BREC board of commissioners on Thursday unanimously approved a compromise in which BREC will demolish the dilapidated Gus Young pool but start a public-private partnership to build a new one.
The deal has been in the works for more than a month, after residents and public representatives of the low-income Gus Young neighborhood started protesting the parish parks commission’s plans to demolish the pool. The pool has been a historic milestone for Baton Rouge’s black community but has outlived its lifespan and has not been open for the past three summers.
After a handful of recent protests and a petition with more than 1,400 residents asking to keep the pool open, the Gus Young supporters showed up in full force at a BREC committee meeting last week. Committee members said BREC could not turn its back on the community and recommended giving a public-private partnership three years to raise the money for a Gus Young pool replacement and until 2020 to build it.
“They are seeing we are listening; they are seeing we care,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said after the meeting.
BREC will not put forth the money for a new pool or splash pad, so Gus Young supporters will have to raise the hundreds of thousands of dollars themselves. Instead, BREC will make improvements to the rest of the park while a pool is in the works.
Only a few Gus Young supporters attended Thursday’s board meeting. State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, and NAACP attorney Alfreda Tillman Bester thanked the commissioners for agreeing to the compromise.
“It’s been a long battle, but I think we may have found common ground,” Bester said.
The pool shell and decking will be demolished immediately and the hole filled in with dirt. BREC will leave the Gus Young pool house standing in case it is needed in the future. If a new aquatic venue is not built by summer 2020, BREC will repurpose the pool space.
Bester said BREC should have put up the money to pay for the pool’s replacement.
BREC has moved to a model of having fewer pools throughout the parish and more splash pads, which cost nearly the same to build but are about 13 times cheaper to maintain.
BREC reported that replacing the Gus Young pool would cost about $400,000. The pool’s yearly maintenance would be about $50,000 a year, plus another $40,000 annually for lifeguards.
Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle already has started a plan for the public-private partnership. She told BREC commissioners last month that Full Circle Development LLC offered to line up a team of engineers, architects and others to build a new Gus Young pool.
Commission Chairman Kenneth L. Riche Jr. said the many gatherings and opportunities for public input about the pool made it a good process.
“I’m proud to be part of the good process, if nothing else,” he said.
McKnight warned that BREC is going to continue to have to make “difficult decisions” as the park system tries to become more efficient. She has noted that BREC does offer swimming options for children in low-income communities.
For kids in the Gus Young community, the YMCA’s A.C. Lewis pool is about 1.5 miles away and BREC’s Howell Community Park pool is about 2 miles away. BREC has a partnership with the YMCA.
Marcelle, however, has said many people in the area do not have access to transportation and the distance of the other pools is too far and dangerous for children to walk.
McKnight also said she has been in talks with Capital Area Transit System officials and they plan to come to an agreement to allow Gus Young residents to take the bus to nearby pools at a reduced rate.
Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.