Loudon park, pool in trouble

Published: 10:15 AM, 02/22/2012

Last updated: 10:20 AM, 02/22/2012

Author: Vicky Newman
Source: News-Herald

A park that has been a major asset for the city of Loudon, in part because of its popular, Olympic-size public pool and attractive walking trails, could soon have neither.

Some Loudon officials are concerned that construction of the new Fort Loudoun Middle School will be creating major problems with adjacent Liberty Park.

Mark Harrell, Loudon parks and recreation director, told city council members recently that construction surrounding the park is going to make major changes because the Loudon County School System owns 300 feet of right of way at the western entrance that will be involved in construction of turn lanes.

"We thought that land was ours, but we discovered that we had deeded it to them (the County) in 1974," Harrell said. "They are going to be taking out trees, and it is going to change things aesthetically and affect drainage. We already had a problem with drainage over there."

Harrell said the right of way is close to the walking trail in the park.

"People are going to be upset with us when they see the changes," he said. Removal of trees and more asphalt will decrease ground water absorption and increase flooding on trails and in the park.

Another Liberty Park issue is the park's pool. In summer months, the pool serves 123-125 people a day, Harrell said. "It is well used and an asset to the community," he said.

But the cost to operate the park has risen sharply in recent years. Employee and fuel costs are up and chemicals to treat the pool have doubled in price to $250 a day, Harrell said. He brought the matter up at the council workshop meeting Feb. 13.

"It doesn't matter if you have five people or 5,000 a day, there is no way to reduce the cost," Harrell said. "We could do away with the pool and build something smaller. I looked into a salt treatment and we could build a $250,000 to $750,000 pool on the existing site, go from 50-meter to 25-meter pool and incorporate a splash pool. The maximum cost would be $250,000 out of pocket. It is 38 years old and has lasted 15 years longer than it should have.

"Don't be surprised if I come in one day and say we're done with the pool," he said. "We can replace the pool, but if we do we'll have to replace the pool house. If construction is done to replace both, you can figure it to take six to eight weeks."

According to Harrell, the main problem is that the admission fee has not changed.

If the cost was set to a satisfactory amount, the pool would not be affordable to users.

"The pool is open 65 days a year," he said. "The budget is $80,000 and we lose $50,000. We have a $30,000 income stream. The cost is $60 for an individual season pass or $75 for a family of up to four. We raised the fee last year $15."

The city replaced the liner five years ago, but the plumbing is out of date, Harrell said. If the pool is repaired, the pool house will have to be upgraded as well to meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements for showers.

Harrell said a possibility exists that a grant through Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservations could be obtained for a smaller, replacement pool. He said replacing the existing pool would cost between $750,000 to $1.2 million. If the pool was reduced to half its current size, a salt-based system could be used instead of treating with chemicals and treatment costs would decrease.

"We can replace it or prepare to close," he said.

Council members couldn't agree on a course of action.

"Sounds to me like it's not an option," Councilman Mike Cartwright said.

"Cities are filing bankruptcy every day," Councilman Lynn Millsaps said. "Don't know where the money would come from to do it. I can't imagine raising taxes to keep a swimming pool."

"We need to run the numbers on this," Mayor Judy Keller said. "I would hate to see us give up the pool. It is a big deal for the city and a service to the underprivileged."

Another immediate park issue is the erosion that is chipping away at the Riverside Park peninsula.
"We've had massive erosion for five or six years," Harrell said. "The holes were created by the stands of Bradford pears. We have been talking with TVA. ... We need assistance with federal dollars. This is not lack of maintenance, it's just Mother Nature taking a toll."

Councilman Jimmy Parks, who was a longtime member of the Parks Advisory Committee, emphasized the history of the area.

"We don't want to lose that peninsula," Parks said. "We need to get the Cherokee Indians involved. Pathkiller's Ferry was up near the senior center."