Council votes not to open swim center to public this year | News

The Liberty Hill Swim Center will not be opening to the public until spring 2023 after originally being set to open this month.

The City Council agreed it was painful to unanimously vote to postpone the opening of the swim center to the public for the 2022 season, but due to several things out of the City’s control, like supply chain and staffing concerns, they decided it was the best move for all involved.

“It’s painful, but we want to roll this out right,” Council member Chris Pezold said during Wednesday night, when the vote took place. “We are sorry to the public and the kiddos.”

City Administrator Paul Brandenburg said the swim center project has been a very fluid project with several moving parts, which has been a challenge.

“The major challenge has been the supply chain,” Brandenburg said. “If we got everything we still needed shipped to us on time, we would be looking at [an opening] date of August 22. That would give us 36 days for a pool season. Then there are other moving parts with that, like chemicals, lifeguards and pool furniture. I think there are too many moving parts of what is still missing.”

John Robinson, CEO of Liberty Hill-based STR Constructors, the contractor building the swim center, said items they are specifically waiting on to complete the pool include the pumps, which are scheduled to ship on July 19, and toys for the “kiddie cove,” which are scheduled to ship on July 29. If those items arrive on time, the pool can be competed by the end of August, but if there are any delays, it will push that date back.

Robinson also said that he just learned that the water for the pool had not yet been permitted by the Williamson County and Cities Health District. He applied for that permit in early July and said is now at the mercy of when the water meter is delivered to the pool, adding that he was told it could take around three weeks.

“Once we get all those things accomplished, we can complete the pool,” he said.

City Communications Manager Katie Amsler said ultimately what it came down to was that city officials didn’t know if everything would be ready to go by the end of August, and they wanted to make sure they had everything taken care of.

“We don’t know where we will be with water restrictions at that time, and if we had them, that would mean there would just be dirt around the pool,” she said. “And if we opened, we would need to start the lifeguard hiring process [immediately].”

Brandenburg added that a staff of 16 lifeguards will be needed for the pool to ensure there are always at least three lifeguards on duty during pool hours.

Being late in the season and with the pool not set to be finished until after school starts, it decreases the number of employees who typically work as lifeguards, Amsler said. She added that the City would also have to pay thousands of dollars in affiliation fees to train brand new lifeguards.

The Council also voted to allow the Liberty Hill High School swim team to use the pool once it’s finished.

“It won’t be used publicly, but it will still be used,” Amsler said, adding that the swim team could use the pool as long the weather is good enough for outdoor swimming. “This [school] year the swim team will have an actual class period, which they haven’t had before. We have spoken to the coach and we are excited to see if we can work this out so they can utilize the swim lanes. We haven’t worked out the details yet, but as a City we are super supportive of helping our athletics in any way we can, and we will be pursuing this.”

Additionally, if students from the swim team are using the pool, the Council said it could create a partnership with those who are certified lifeguards to possibly staff the pool next season.

“When I think about the money that’s going to have to be spent to get this off the ground with just a 30-something day season, I say we let the high school swim team swim there and let them take ownership for now,” Pezold said. 

Brandenburg agreed and said it was best to get the pool finished, allow the swim team to use it, and push hiring lifeguards and ordering pool furniture to next year.

“I know everybody has been very anxious about this project, but I want to do it right,” he added.

The City also recently hired a parks and recreation coordinator, who will oversee the swim center. That coordinator, who is coming from a nearby city, has extensive knowledge in operating an aquatics program, Amsler said, which will be a major help in opening the swim center to the public next spring. She will begin her role on Aug. 1.

Ultimately, Robinson said construction on the pool will continue until it’s finished.

“We are definitely going to proceed no matter what,” he said. 

Construction began on the pool in the fall of 2021 after years of delays and revisions to the project. In October 2021, the City Council awarded the bid for the construction of the pool to STR Constructors and the bid for the lift station and force main to operate the pool to Patriot Underground, LLC.

Upon completion, the swim center will include a pavilion, restrooms, vending and storage spaces, as well as a tanning shelf, a beach entry and a “kiddie cove” for children with splash-pad style amenities. According to the design schematic, the pool will be 4,866 square feet in size for the main pool and 990 square feet for the “kiddie cove.” The pool will also have two 25-meter swim lanes, which were not in the original pool design, but were added later after community feedback. Occupancy for the pool is 373 swimmers. 

Amsler said she has heard from a lot of people that Liberty Hill needs a large aquatics facility to support youth swimmers, and while she agrees that would be amazing, people don’t understand that Liberty Hill’s city limits, and its accompanying tax base, are very small. 

“There are only 3,600 taxpayers in our city limits,” she said. “Because we have a small budget and small staff, we are not able to provide a huge aquatic center for all of Liberty Hill to use. However, we are excited because many of our residents who pay taxes do not have access to a swimming pool, and the original intent of the pool was to serve residents who don’t have this facility. We are excited to be able to offer that.”

The budget for the project was set at $1.8 million by the Council in 2020, with $1.3 million coming from bonds and $500,000 coming from a Texas Parks and Wildlife grant. Since construction began, the Council has approved three change orders for the project totaling $42,011.

The pool is now set to open to the public on Memorial Day in 2023.