WINTERS — More than 50 people attended the standing-room-only city council meeting in Winters on Monday, July 30. The hot topic of discussion was getting a new pool for the town. The chamber was filled to capacity with some people having to stand outside the chambers in the hallway to listen to the proceedings.
The old pool is damaged to the point that repairs are not possible. Also complicating the matter is the fact that the pool and facility have areas that are grandfathered in and would need to be changed to be in compliance with current laws and requirements.
Prior to the beginning of the meeting local citizens talked amongst themselves about the issue of a new pool and how the city council might address it. There was a great deal of concern over how the council would handle the matter and if getting a new pool would even be possible. The attendees ranged in age from teenagers to people in their 80s, showing that the swimming pool was a concern shared by everyone.
The council meeting began with John Long handing a signed petition for a new pool to the council. Long had been gathering signatures in the days before the meeting with some people signing while waiting for the city council session to begin. The topic of Winters getting a new swimming pool is hotter than West Texas in August. Many people spoke out in support of the new pool.
“Kids are our only resource. We have no industry to draw people to our city. We need this pool for the kids,” said one man who stood up and spoke.
A young lady who is 16 years old and had trained as a lifeguard to work at the old pool over the summer spoke up on behalf of the kids, “The only thing we (kids) have to look forward to in the summer is the pool and the Frigid Frog (snow cone stand). Now, we only have the Frigid Frog. The kids need something to do in the summer. I went to lifeguard training in Abilene to work at the pool and then it closed.”
The issue runs deeper than the citizens of the town simply wanting a pool to cool off in during the sweltering heat of a Texas summer. Many in the town who spoke up said that they felt that Winters is a dying town with no industry, no hotels and boarded up buildings along Main Street.
“You go down Main Street and you see empty buildings, broken and boarded up windows and no one does anything. We don’t have a reason for visitors to come here,” said one man who addressed the council.
A man who graduated from Winters High School many years ago stood up and spoke up regarding the town losing business by saying, “We moved our class reunion for next year from Winters to Austin because there are no hotels here. We only have limited restaurants and there is no industry here.”
Once everyone was given a chance to comment, Sage Diller, who is an associate vice president at Enprotec Hibbs & Todd, the engineering company that would design and build the pool, addressed the council and the attendees.
“There are other items to consider regarding the pool not just the initial capital cost of the construction, but the long term cost of operating the pool,” Diller said, adding that a pool that the company designed and built in Albany costs approximately $30,000 per year to operate.
Scott Hay, vice president of Enprotec Hibbs & Todd, said that the company wanted everyone, both the council and the citizens, to know all of the costs involved up front so that they did not get surprised down the road.
As there had been no budget set for the new pool, the Enprotec did not have any numbers to work with as far as presenting a design.
When asked, Diller said that a new pool, “would cost around five hundred thousand dollars.”
That number did not include the pool house/bath house for changing and for restrooms. The estimate on the structure alone was at least one million dollars. Given the limited resources of the town the size of Winters, many feared that their hopes of a new pool were washed away.
When the council asked the citizens how they thought the pool could be financed, many spoke up and several positive ideas were given. It was at that point that the mood in the room changed from sticker shock over the price of the pool and structure, to problem solving. The council said that a bond election would be needed and asked for a show of hands in support of it. Almost everyone in the room raised their hand.
Many had expected it to require a bond election so that came as no surprise to them. Other options brought up by the citizens included the possibilities of grants from Texas Parks & Wildlife, the TCEQ and the USDA’s Rural Economic Development Loan & Grant Program. One lady said that a GoFundMe page could help raise donations. This idea was encouraged by Mayor Lisa Yates and the council, who were problem solving with the citizens to tackle the funding issues. Another man said that the kids could help by working on a fundraiser. The entrance fee for the old pool was 75cents. It was agreed that a new fee would have to be somewhat higher.
The conversation between those who spoke up and the council was never contentious. It was an orderly meeting and everyone who wanted to speak, was allowed to speak. Hay and Diller of Enprotec were honest and up-front about the costs. One item that there is no question over is how much the new pool would be used. The old pool was used by the VFD for some of their events, seniors for graduation parties, used the old pool for birthday parties, church events, civil groups and even MHMR patients from Ballinger and by many others.
At the end of the meeting a motion was made and seconded to give the Enprotec a budget ranging from $400,000 to $1,500,000. Diller and Hay said that they would work on pool and structure plans that would fall within that range and have something ready for the city council meeting next month.
While the $1.5 million sounds high, Diller addressed everyone regarding that figure, “I’d rather tell you something is going to cost you $40 and end up having it cost you only $10 rather than telling you something is going to cost you $10 dollars and it ends up costing you $40.”