Cuscaden Pool was the well-used jewel of the VM Ybor community when it was built at Cuscaden Park in 1937. It was rehabilitated and restored, thanks in large part to a federal grant. The official reopening came in 2005 — much to the delight of residents.
Unfortunately, the historic pool and community facilities, weight room, classrooms, exercise rooms, etc., were opened for just five seasons before being closed due to water infiltration and pool filtration problems. In addition to the pool, this facility housed an after-school program that was extremely beneficial to the community. The pool will be closed for at least another season, with no commitment from the city for funding or a timetable for repairs. Once plagued by arson and now a high vacancy rate, this area has a lack of public amenities that makes it exceptionally difficult to draw businesses and new residents to live in this great, diverse and historic neighborhood.
Prostitution and drug issues have had a significant, negative impact on the quality of life in our community, especially along the Nebraska Avenue corridor. While the community is working very hard with the Tampa Police Department, code enforcement, etc., to address these issues, it seems to be an uphill battle that has spanned decades and significantly deters and slows private investment (residential or commercial) in our community. Conditions can only improve if the city 1) works with various agencies to assist and support law enforcement's efforts and 2) reviews and enforces current zoning laws and city ordinances as related to boardinghouses and known drug houses.
The city responds
In 1997, Cuscaden Pool was closed for renovations and to repair leaks. It reopened in 2005, but the leaks were back within several years. So the city closed the pool in 2010. Many at that time speculated that the work done in 2005 was faulty, said David Vaughn, Tampa's director of contracts administration. The pool will not open this summer while city officials continue to assess repairs. It could open next year, he said, although that isn't certain.
"I'm sure neighbors are frustrated," Vaughn said, acknowledging that the process has moved slowly. "But these issues are somewhat complex and we want to make sure we do it right."
Older pools require more maintenance and this one has structural damage from shifting concrete, Vaughn said. The shell and deck are cracked and were leaking, as was the old sand filter system.
These problems resulted in "lots of water loss," Vaughn said. The Parks and Recreation department decided it would not be economically or environmentally responsible to keep operating the pool. Officials hired a consultant to make recommendations for repairs and modifications to bring the pool up to new health department codes.
The pool, with its historic features, is locally designated as a landmark and is similar to the Roy Jenkins Pool on Davis Islands. Both have bathhouses around the perimeter below the deck. The Jenkins pool is being renovated, and Vaughn said staffers are learning along the way and hope to use the knowledge in repairing Cuscaden. It's a matter of balancing historic preservation with new technologies for water conservation and operation efficiencies, he said.
The parks department has not yet fit Cuscaden renovations into its budget and overall pool plans. The last renovation cost $3 million at a time when construction of a new pool cost $1 million.
A spokeswoman for Tampa police did not respond by press time this week. But City Council member Frank Reddick, whose district includes VM Ybor, said he is aware of the issues Headland raised.
He said he thought police had made progress battling prostitution and drugs there.
"I can understand their frustration," he said of residents. "Maybe we need to direct some more law enforcement in that area."
Reddick, who heads the city's public safety committee, said he will request a status report on the efforts in the area from Tampa police.
Elisabeth Parker, Times staff writer