The dimensions of a dearly-loved pool in Miami Gardens sparked debate and a deferral at a recent City Council meeting.
Residents, primarily from the Bunche Park neighborhood in the southern area of Miami Gardens, asked the council at the April 26 meeting to allow the Bunche Park Pool to be rebuilt with a maximum depth of 10 feet. That was the depth of the original pool, built in 1963, but current renovation plans call for the pool to go to only five feet in the deep end.
The plans for the pool, and concern over the depth, gained steam at a community meeting earlier this month hosted by Vice Mayor Erhabor Ighodaro.
Neighbors said they were unaware that the new pool would be more shallow and criticized the council for not keeping them informed. They argue that the previous depth was more suitable for teaching children how to swim and dive and didn’t need to be changed.
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“We expected that pool to be better than the pool we had but to at least have the dimensions so that our kids would not only have the enjoyment of swimming but have an opportunity to become excellent swimmers and divers,” said Jo Marie Payton, actress and Miami Gardens resident. “If we just accept this pool being like that, what else are we supposed to accept?”
Ultimately, after more than an hour of debate, the City Council chose to defer the item until the May 24 meeting to identify a funding source.
The project, in the planning stages for years, will be paid for through the city’s $60 million general obligation bond, which voters approved in 2014. The pool has been closed since the summer of 2007, after falling into disrepair. Construction work began earlier this year after a groundbreaking ceremony last August.
The new pool’s foundation and the pool deck have already been poured with concrete, according to city staff, and increasing the depth would mean demolishing that foundation and redesigning the pool.
Renovation plans were first approved in May 2015 and city staff estimated that building the new pool and facility would cost about $4.3 million. Staff estimated that making the pool deeper would cost about $1.2 million.
Ighodaro, who sponsored the resolution to change the pool size, said the city owed it to residents to do the project the way neighbors envisioned it even if it cost more or caused delays.
“I think we should do it right or we risk losing the trust of the people we serve,” Ighodaro said.
Council members and some residents said they were hesitant to support restarting the project because of concerns over having to move funds from other bond programs. The change in the pool’s depth would also delay the project by another nine months to a year, according to city staff.
“If we go back into a project that we’ve already awarded, it’s not just [$1.2 million] it’s [$1.2 million] plus the change orders for the other project,” Mayor Oliver Gilbert said. “If we had budgeted and planned for it, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
Ighodaro also said that he and residents were never made aware of the plan to build the pool with different dimensions. City Manager Cameron Benson said that all the bids to renovate the pool called for a five-foot depth.
“The council voted to move forward with the winning proposal that recommended five feet,” Benson said. “Not one time did the vice mayor ask me about the depth of the pool in the proposal.”
If we just accept this pool being like that, what else are we supposed to accept?
Actress and Miami Gardens resident Jo Marie Payton
Although there was no vote on changing the pool’s dimensions, the City Council did approve two resolutions related to the bond programs. One will require the city manager to give reports and host quarterly workshops about the progress of bond projects. The other will mandate a more thorough presentation of the design of future projects to council members and the public before construction work begins.
“My focus is to make sure this bond does not get away from us in these discussions,” Ighodaro said.
Beyond the pool, the plan for the neighboring park, across the street, is to build an alternative sports complex. The current recreation building would be torn down and replaced with a multi-story gymnasium with a running track on the second floor and instruction in boxing, gymnastics, martial arts and dance.