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Tampa City Council presses for $1.5 million repair to Cuscaden pool

TAMPA — The City Council on Thursday pressed Mayor Bob Buckhorn's administration to find the $1.5 million needed to fix the historic pool at Cuscaden Park — even if that means taking money from other projects.

"We cannot allow this pool to deteriorate further," council member Lisa Montelione said. "We need to get this ball rolling now."

Officials said revenue from the half-cent Community Investment Tax already is committed for the coming budget year. As a result, anything the city might decide to do before the 2014-15 fiscal year would require officials to shift money from another project.

So be it, several council members said.

"We can de-earmark some of those funds," council member Frank Reddick said.

"You're the finance man," Reddick told Dennis Rogero, promoted this spring to chief of staff after serving as city budget officer. "I'm pretty sure if you go back to your office, sit at your desk, look at your computer, look at the budget, look at the resources of the city you can come up with $1.5 million."

The Cuscaden pool has been closed since 2009, when cracks, leaks and a faulty filtration system made it too expensive to keep filled with water and open to swimmers — especially as City Hall cut costs across-the-board during the recession.

The city's five-year capital improvements program includes $6 million for improvements at pools, but does not commit that Cuscaden will be one of them.

But council members not only asked the administration to find the money for Cuscaden, but also to take steps to plan the project so the city can start work as soon as the money is available. In the meantime, they said, the city should try to put a cover over the pool or something to protect it from weathering.

"When you close a pool and it sits and bakes in the hot sun summer after summer after summer, it actually deteriorates," council member Harry Cohen said. "The condition of the pool now is most likely considerably worse than it was when the problem revealed itself."

The above-ground, oval pool on 15th Street was built in 1937 as a Works Progress Administration project. It closed in 1997 because of leaks. It got a $2.5 million renovation in 2005 but closed in 2009.

Like the Roy Jenkins Pool on Davis Islands, which is receiving a $2.25 million renovation, the Cuscaden Pool has bathhouses around the perimeter below the deck. It has red brick, blue-and-white trim and art deco-style lettering on the front.

Asked recently to assess the needs at the Cuscaden pool, Holmes Hepner & Associates Architects of Tampa say spending $1.5 million would enable the city to:

• Obtain a new operating permit from the Health Department and to comply with the state building code.

• Upgrade the pool's filtration and chemical treatment equipment, and to connect the filtration system to the city's sewer system, not to the stormwater system, which is no longer allowed.

• Repair damage done by moisture and keep moisture out, though architects say Cuscaden always will need attention to this issue because of its age and unusual design.

Fixing the pool would be only part of the city's expenses. Officials have estimated they would have to buy $167,000 more in lifesaving and pool deck gear to reopen. Yearly personnel and operating expenses would range from about $118,000 for summertime swimming only to nearly $456,000 for year-round swimming.

Ybor City and V.M. Ybor neighborhood leaders have called for the city to make fixing and re-opening the pool a priority. Buckhorn has been wary of attempting a second major fix in less than a decade, but council members say the pool needs to be reopened and asked for another report Dec. 5.

"It says a lot about our city if we're only interested in building high-rises and skyscrapers, and we're not looking at preserving history," council member Yvonne Yolie Capin said. "This pool, absolutely, is a jewel and an asset. … We have to stabilize it. We have to protect this treasure."

Richard Danielson can be reached at (813) 226-3403, or @Danielson_Times on Twitter.