VERO BEACH - The Vero Beach City Council wants to close the Leisure Square pool and replace it with a skate park. While the skate park has great support among residents, not everyone agrees with getting rid of the pool to make it happen.
During the FY 2019-2020 City Council budget workshop, Mayor Val Zudans said he doesn’t think the city should be in the pool business.
“I’ve never been a fan of the Leisure Square pool,” Mayor Zudans said.
The pool, Mayor Zudans said, “is not as nice as the other two public pools that we have in our county, at the Gifford Aquatic Center and the North County Pool. It’s a very costly part of our recreation budget that is significantly underutilized.”
The mayor said most of the people using the pool are not city residents, and the city was paying about $194,000 per year for something that generated only about $25,000 of revenue.
During the budget workshop, Recreation Department Director Rob Slezak made the case for keeping the pool, though he acknowledged the financial arguments.
“That pool is also used for swim lessons, Vero Beach High School, the Special Olympics,” Mr. Slezak said. “It’s a community-driven pool.”
Mayor Zudans said the number of city residents who are members of the pool is around 100. “The city is spending $2,000 per city resident who is using that pool each year,” Mayor Zudans said, adding that the high school and other groups that use the pool could switch to a county pool.
“I understand that there are some members of the community who can’t afford a membership at a private pool, but they can certainly go to Gifford Aquatic Center or to the North County Pool,” Mayor Zudans said.
Recreation Director Slezak said the number of memberships did not represent the number of people benefitting from the pool.
“Probably 400-500 people use the pool every day in the summer, including summer camps,” Mr. Slezak said.
After presenting the case to close the pool, Mayor Zudans argued for the skate park at the same location. Mr. Slezak said a good skate park would cost half a million to a million dollars.
“Cutting $175,000 a year out of our Leisure Square budget is more than enough funding to build and finance a skate park,” Mayor Zudans said. He said many more people in the community would get memberships, which would improve Leisure Square overall.
“Keep in mind that you have a number of programs that use that pool that will be affected,” Mr. Slezak said. “I get what you’re saying (about finances), but the public will have a few things to say. You have water aerobics, you have seniors, you have people who are really utilizing the pool.”
Supporters of the Leisure Square pool immediately and loudly responded on Facebook.
“This is pathetic!” said School Board member Jacqueline Tirado-Rosario. “Everyone benefits from a pool. Everyone! Young and old, even handicapped, Special Olympics and our students, everyone benefits from a pool. Not everyone will benefit from a skate park!”
“A skate park would be a wonderful addition if finances allow it, but to remove the pool is a terrible decision,” Ms. Tirado-Rosario said. “It definitely does not put people first.”
City Councilmember Tony Young had made a similar point at the budget workshop, saying he’d rather try to find the funding for the pool before closing it. He said there was other space at Leisure Square for the skate park. “They’re not mutually exclusive,” Councilmember Young said.
“I’m not willing, personally, to continue to fund the swimming pool at Leisure Square,” Mayor Zudans said.
Bolt Aquatics offers swim lessons at Leisure Square and at the North County Aquatics Complex in Sebastian. Coach Bill Bolton has posted several comments about the controversy.
“This is incredibly upsetting and disappointing,” Bolt Aquatics posted. “The Leisure Square pool is a staple in this community. Bolt Aquatics, the Masters, the Special Olympics, the fire department and local high schools need this pool! We all use it to train and teach, and what's more important in a water-surrounded state than to be a strong swimmer. Drowning is the number one preventable cause of death in children. Maintaining access to swimming lessons and a facility is crucial. Do not take this away from our children.”
“This cannot stand,” Bolt Aquatics said in another post. “We must not let our community resources and facilities, open to any and all regardless of financial standing, be closed with such flippancy and lack of consideration for the public good.”
“I don’t think we need to devalue one form of recreation to make room for another,” posted resident Megan Hoots on Facebook. “60 seniors used the pool at 11 a.m. today for water aerobics, it’s a busy pool. Skate park is important! Let’s make it happen-but not by taking away an asset.”
Ms. Hoots said that government services are not a business, and they should not need to turn a profit.
Beverly Paris, a county resident who spent about 18 months volunteering to promote the Vero Beach Centennial, was also angry.
“I personally raised thousands of dollars several years ago for a pavilion to be built by that pool with promises to the benefactor Tim Girard,” Ms. Paris said. “Do you have any regard for that? How about the giving developers in town who used their manpower and time to erect it. Any thought about these volunteers?”
A running theme throughout the comments posted online has been that pool supporters also support the skate park, and they believe the city can afford both.
Mayor Zudans also posted on Facebook, asking: “Establishing priorities within limited budgets is an important part of public service. What do you think about this decision?”
To offer input, email all members of the Vero Beach City Council at email@example.com.
Leisure Square is located at 3705 16th St., Vero Beach.