ZEPHYRHILLS — The city's new parks and recreation board has a mission: consult with the school district and come up with recommendations on how best to use the former Hercules Park and aquatic center.
In 2011, budget cuts prompted the county, which was leasing the land from the Pasco County School District, to close the pool. The county turned the land deed back over to the district the following year, shutting the park down.
Now the School District wants to work with the city in coming up with a mutually beneficial plan for using the property. Ray Gadd, the district's assistant superintendent for administration and operations, asked the City Council on Monday to put together a committee or task force to study the issue.
The district has been approached by different groups interested in buying the property, including RaceTrac, which has expressed an interest in obtaining two acres for a gas station, Gadd said.
Gadd said district officials are sensitive to the historical value of the park, but the land is becoming a liability that must be dealt with. The district has a duty to taxpayers to be fiscally responsible regarding the property, he added.
"We would like to see a committee of stakeholders get together to come up with a vision for that site," said Gadd.
Several dozen residents packed the meeting to hear the discussion about the park, with a number of people offering their opinions. Members and coaches of the high school swim team said they want to see the pool reopened so they can have a place to practice; grandmothers spoke of the need for children to learn to swim. There was a suggestion to fill the pool and turn it into a sunken garden, to avoid the expense of repairing, maintaining and insuring it.
Harriett Morton Weicht grew up on the property; her father was a foreman there when negotiations were held to sell it to the School District. Then-superintendent Chester Taylor agreed that the district would always use the property for the benefit of the city's youth, although it was not stipulated in the legal documents, she said.
"It was a gentleman's agreement," said Weicht.
Council members said they appreciate the district's willingness to work with the city, given it owns the property and can do with it whatever officials see fit. City Manager Jim Drumm said the cost of running the park and swimming pool when it was open was about $130,000 a year; revenues were roughly $35,000.
City Council member Jodi Wilkeson suggested the council consider asking taxpayers if they would support a special assessment — possibly $29 a year — to reopen and maintain the pool.
The council unanimously agreed to have the parks and recreation board meet with Gadd and his staff to explore options and report back to the council within 90 days. The seven-member board, created earlier this year, meets for the first time next month and still has one vacancy to fill. Anyone interested can contact city hall at (813) 780-0000 or fill out an application on the city's web site: ci.zephyrhills.fl.us/