by Mark McDermott
The Manhattan Beach City Council last week authorized the expenditure of up to a quarter million dollars for a firm to develop designs for either a new Begg Pool or a larger, two-pool aquatic facility.
The 80-year-old community pool, located adjacent to Polliwog Park, has become increasingly dilapidated and outdated, including cracks appearing in its decks, a small and grungy equipment room, and a single-lane road to and from the heavily-used facility. A community survey conducted late last year found community support for a modernized aquatics center, with 56 percent of residents approving for the general idea of a new aquatics center. In that survey, 81 percent favored a larger, 35-meter pool for swim competitions and exercise and 73 percent favoring a smaller, shallower pool for swim lessons, water aerobics, and children’s programming.
The consultants, HMC Group, will prepare designs and cost estimates for two options — the renovation of the existing 25-yard shallow pool, and a total redesign that would include a renovated 25-yard pool as well as a 35-meter competition pool. They will also conduct a community “visioning” process that includes hosting two meetings for resident input.
Councilperson Amy Howorth, who made the motion to authorize the work, said that when she ran for election last year, Begg Pool was an issue that many residents asked her about.
“This pool is 80 years old….So something needs to be done,” Howorth said. “I think it’s going to be a community resource. I’ve seen the results of the surveys, which I appreciate, but I ran for this seat last fall and I cannot tell you how many people came up to me to say, ‘What are we going to do about Begg Pool?´ Not to get political, but it was really surprising to me, from various pockets and corners of this community, from a wide swath of people. I think there is a hunger for this.”
Councilperson David Lesser seconded the motion. He said Begg Pool has been beyond its useful life for decades now.
“To the extent we want to raise children that know how to swim without having to go to private clubs or wait in the summer for the lifeguard programs on the beach, we need to have a community pool that is up to the standards of today,” Lesser said.
The Council in February issued requests for proposals for the development of design options. Initially, a third option was also considered — the use of a different site, near the Manhattan Beach Unified School District’s maintenance yard. But developing potential designs for that site would have added significant osts, and in any case, MBUSD has indicated it has other plans for the maintenance yard. MBUSD also owns the land on which Polliwog Park and Begg Pool are located. Both are managed by the City for use by its residents.
Councilperson Steve Napolitano supported authorizing the design work but expressed skepticism the Begg site could be redesigned without an exorbitant price tag. Nearby El Segundo built an aquatic center four years ago that cost $11 million, but its location had few of the complications of the Begg Pool site.
“I think people are supportive of the cost of the pool, because they know what they’re getting with it,” Napolitano said. “But that site is going to demand a whole lot more investment in infrastructure than just the pool. You’ve got a one-lane road, you’ve got subpar access, you got subpar parking…My bet is that the infrastructure costs just to get to the pool are going to be half — if not the same cost — as that pool at the end of the day. I hope I’m wrong.”
“You know, there’s a reason why it hasn’t happened yet,” Napolitano added. “And it’s going to just get more expensive. That’s why I still question this site.”
Both Mayor Richard Montgomery and Mayor pro tem Joe Franklin supported authorizing the designs but were also skeptical of the costs.
Franklin listed a number of potential problems, included not only the difficulty of the site, but the likelihood that a new aquatics center would bring more heavy use — something nearby residents have objected to since the idea of a new Begg Pool began being discussed more than a decade ago. Franklin said a new pool alone would have a steep price, not only to build but to maintain.
“Pools are horrifically expensive,” he said. “They evaporate water, they evaporate chemicals, just how often have to be cleaned and treated to make it safe, especially with a lot of frequent use….So I will go ahead and vote to do the study, but look at the results very carefully.”
Montgomery said that the idea of a new Begg Pool has been discussed since he was first on the council in the early 2000s. The mayor said he wasn’t so certain the community was that interested in investing millions in a new pool, as evidenced by the fact no residents spoke about it at the meeting.
“The fact that we’ve got more people talking about dog parks than we have talking about this pool tells you what’s going on,” Montgomery said. “Not one person came and spoke about this, whether for or against.”
But Montgomery said that that council needed to find out exactly what possibilities exist for a new pool.
“It’s a big step to take, for this to happen,” he said. “We’ve never done it before, actually hiring someone to look at options for improving the pool.”
No cost estimates have yet been conducted, nor is it clear how the City would pay for the new facility. The consultants, HCM, have designed several aquatic facilities, including the San Gabriel Valley Aquatic Center and pools at Yucca Valley, Mount San Antonio College and El Camino College. An HCM representative told the council most cities have used local bond programs.
Melissa McCollum, the City’s senior recreational manager, also said there is interest locally in private-public partnership, similar to the Scout House and Senior Center that is underway in Manhattan Beach in which a local non-profit has contributed part of the cost.
“One piece of feedback that we have received from the community also is that fundraising is a lot easier when this work that we’re talking about tonight is done, and there is actually a plan and as a design schematic that can be shared with those potential donors,” McCollum said.
The contract with HCM was approved unanimously. The firm is expected to have designs completed within seven months.
“We need these designs to be able to determine what our community wants and be able to project the costs of what we can afford — and to better understand what the potential impacts of these two options,” Lesser said. “We have to go forward.”
Howorth expressed optimism that this was the first step in a process that would lead to a new aquatic facility for the community.
“I fully believe that once we choose an option and we can go forward, we are going to find partners and we are going to make this happen for this community,” she said. “So I’m, I’m hopeful, optimistic and completely committed.” ER