LAKE WORTH BEACH — After years of discussions, workshops, public meetings and no swimming in Lake Worth Beach’s long-shuttered municipal pool, the city commission decided on Tuesday to… wait some more.
The five-person board is in agreement that the pool, located a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean at the city’s beach complex, must reopen after being closed since 2016.
But how to get there is a matter of opinion.
Commissioners convened Tuesday for a special meeting scheduled to finish drafting an “invitation to negotiate,” a procurement process that allows the city to enter into discussions with developers interested in a public-private partnership that puts the pool back in use.
Before that discussion could begin, Mayor Betty Resch proposed shelving talks until a future commission workshop so that board members, along with an architectural consultant, can craft design elements – splash pads, tiki huts, public access, etc. – to be followed by potential developers.
“I think we all want to be a part of that,” Resch said.
That response drew an angry reaction from outgoing Vice Mayor Herman Robinson, who has previously accused his colleagues of slow-walking action on the pool.
“That’s what we want to do is talk,” he said.
Robinson also took aim at commissioners for posing as impromptu pool designers, warning that “is the worst case possible” and that the result will be “like a committee that’s asked to design a horse and comes away with a camel.”
“This is absolutely the wrong way to go,” said Robinson, who announced in October that he will not seek re-election. “We are going to get less and it’s going to cost us more…This is a scary night for me.”
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The better move, Robinson said, is to issue the invitation to negotiate drafted by city staff, which asks prospective builders for proposals on:
- Modernizing the 34,000 square foot pool facility.
- Developing the barely-used second floor of the beach complex building.
- Some combination of the first two options.
Robinson argued the responses to the invitation would give the commission a good idea of builder interest in the pool complex without committing the city to a deal.
That opinion stood alone. The commission voted 4-1 to schedule a workshop in January with the next step in the process – whatever that might be – coming four weeks later. As of Thursday, the workshop has not been set on the city calendar.
Resch said that she understood Robinson’s “frustration” but that a workshop where commissioners can focus on the issue will be a “good exercise for the outcome.”
Commissioner Christopher McVoy urged moving with urgency to get the pool open while adding, “we don’t want to be too hasty.”
The pool is a political hot potato in Lake Worth Beach – former city manager Michael Bornstein once called it the “third rail” of city politics – and played a role in Resch, McVoy and fellow board members Kim Stokes and Sarah Malega being elected in March.
“There is a lot of emotion tied to this pool and there’s a lot of emotion on this dias tied to the pool,” Resch said.
A workshop assures the commission is able to “narrow down what we’re looking for,” Resch said.
That’s already happened, countered Robinson, pointing to a Nov. 8 workshop in which commissioners spelled out their visions for the pool complex and directed city staff to draft the ITN.
The commission then met Dec. 7, but declined to accept or reject the ITN, sending it back to staff for more revisions and scheduling Tuesday’s one-hour special meeting.
Again the commission chose not to vote on the ITN and it remains uncertain what the city’s next move will be. It could skip the ITN and issue a request for proposal, a document that describes a project in detail and solicits bids from contractors.
“There is no bad direction here,” Resch said. “Just different directions.”
Not so, said Robinson.
“Whatever time it takes, I’m willing to wait if it’s done right, but I think we’re going in the wrong direction here,” he said.