South Miami hires contractor for long-awaited pool

Decades after the idea first came up, South Miami commissioners have hired a company to design and build a pool in the city’s historically black neighborhood.

Commissioners agreed to hire Recreational Design & Construction of Fort Lauderdale to do the work.

The project will be welcomed by residents like Deltravis Williams, who has been awaiting it for years.

When Williams was 14, his best friend Stacey Harrington, who was 12, went swimming in a canal in South Miami. Harrington drowned and died.

“If we had a pool it wouldn’t have happen because we would have somewhere to go,” said Williams, now 34. “It’s personal because I want it for the kids. It’s not for me anymore. I’m grown up I know how to swim. I don’t want anybody else’s kids in this neighborhood to go through what I went through.”

Talk about the public pool, which will be at Murray Park, goes back to the 1970s.

The constructions needs to start before June 30, otherwise the city will lose the $1.5 million grant it has to build the pool.

“We are in a position now that everything is on the table,” said Commissioner Walter Harris, who is in favor of the pool. “There’s no tomorrow. If we don’t have it done this time, there will not be another chance.”

Most of the money came from the federal Community Development Block Grant program funneled through Miami-Dade County. About $300,000 came from the South Miami Community Redevelopment Agency and Safe Neighborhood Parks.

The CDBG grant expired on Dec. 31 of last year, but Mayor Philip Stoddard requested an extension from Miami Dade County. After he had a meeting with Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Feb. 7, the county gave an extension through June 30.

The design company submitted a proposal for a 3,500 square feet recreational pool with lap and teaching areas and with a 1,100 square feet splash deck. A more detailed design needs to be approved for the constructions to start in the next three months.

“This is a community pool,” said Stoddard. “This is a place for children to learn to swim, a place for kids and families. … to get in the water and enjoy themselves. It’s a place for people of all ages exercise.”

The City Commission voted 4-1 for the contract with Valerie Newman dissenting.

“I’m not comfortable, and it’s not because I don’t want the community to have a pool,” Newman said at the commission’s March 19 meeting. “Just like I can’t afford a pool in my house, I don’t think the city can afford a pool.”

The grant pays for the construction of the pool, but does not pay for the costs of maintenance and operation.

The city plans to spend $50,000 per year to maintain and operate the pool, which Vice Mayor Josh Liebman said should be enough to keep it open for about 10 weeks during the summer.

“We left this open for 10 weeks or $50,000, whichever comes first,” said Liebman. “My point is, we’re going to build the pool, and even if the pool is never open, there’s still maintenance cost.”

The interim city manager, Steven Alexander, plans to work on a detailed budget to calculate how much money the pool will need for maintenance and operation.

Although 10 weeks might sound too little for the hot weather of Florida, Williams understands the money issues and just hopes to see the pool done soon.

“Getting it done is more important,” Williams said. “So maybe in the next commission or in the next leadership we can come up with funds and we can change it.”