Baton Rouge Metro Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle said Thursday at a BREC meeting that she has a plan to rebuild the Gus Young pool, which BREC is eyeing to demolish and close in August.
The movement to save the Gus Young pool has gained traction in the past few weeks after BREC said the pool has fallen into disrepair and would be too costly to fix, estimating the repair costs at around $500,000.
BREC has done away with many pools citywide and has added new aquatic features that are less expensive to maintain, such as splash pads. But the Gus Young pool supporters say theirs is different.
The low-income, predominantly black Eden Park community surrounding the Gus Young Pool has few bright spots. Many black leaders have said the pool has been a longtime landmark in the community where many black children learned to swim.
“We’re gonna design and build our own pool,” Marcelle said.
Marcelle is proposing a public-private partnership to build a new Gus Young pool for the people in the district. She said Full Circle Development LLC has offered to assemble a team of engineers, architects, designers and others to build a new pool for Gus Young.
“Our plan is to design a park with a pool and expanded community gathering areas to give the park greater attractiveness,” Full Circle Development Chief Executive Officer Rinaldi Jacobs Sr., wrote in a letter Marcelle distributed to BREC commissioners.
“It is our goal to attract our own private funding for this project without the use of BREC dollars to complete our plan,” Jacobs wrote. “That is not to say they would not be welcomed in the process of a new Gus Young Park or in use of upkeep of the new facility.”
Marcelle said she will “hold BREC’s feet to the fire” on money BREC has promised to the Gus Young pool in the past. She said she would want BREC to be responsible for maintaining the pool once it’s built.
BREC leaders have said maintaining pools is what makes them more expensive than splash pads.
BREC has estimated it would cost $92,000 a year to staff and maintain the Gus Young pool. Splash pads cost around the same amount of money to build — $500,000 — but they are much cheaper to maintain at $6,700 a year.
BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said after the meeting that she’s open to a public/private partnership to rebuild the pool but hasn’t had time to explore Marcelle’s plan yet and needs more information about it.
“It would be wonderful if the community would step forward and make this project happen,” she said. “… It’s exciting if they’re able to pull it off.”
McKnight said she and a committee will make a recommendation next month to BREC’s governing board on a proposed course of action for the Gus Young pool. She said she would not recommend rebuilding the Gus Young pool with BREC’s tax dollars but might be willing to recommend the partnership Marcelle is proposing.
If Marcelle can find a group of donors to pay for the design and construction of a new Gus Young pool, McKnight said, BREC could explore options to pay for the maintenance. She said some include fee-based programs, like aquatics exercise classes, and giving people the opportunity to rent out the pool.
Even with closing the Gus Young pool, McKnight said, BREC provides many swimming options for kids who live in the area. BREC has a partnership with the YMCA, and the pools nearby are YMCA’s A.C. Lewis pool, about 1.5 miles away and BREC’s Howell Community Park pool about 2 miles away.
Marcelle and 19th Judicial District Court Judge Trudy White tried to plead their case to the BREC Board of Commissioners at its monthly meeting on Thursday, bringing along with them a group of Gus Young pool supporters.
But BREC is not discussing the Gus Young pool until next month, when the Gus Young Pool will be on the agenda for both a committee meeting and a meeting of the full board.
Marcelle and White spoke to the commissioners for a few minutes at the start of the meeting, and Marcelle asked the commissioners to embrace her proposal to build a new pool.
White asked the commissioners to keep in mind the pool’s history and racial issues surrounding its importance in the black community when making decisions about the pool’s future.
“It is a history that needs to be told, a history that needs to be acknowledged and not ignored,” White said.
Marcelle said she and the other supporters will be back in July to further discuss their plan to rebuild the pool. The committee meeting to discuss the Gus Young pool is at 4 p.m. on July 15 in the ballroom at BREC’s headquarters on Florida Boulevard.