What to Expect at Austin's Newly Reopened Pools
New policies, fewer pools, and how to navigate them
By Clara Ence Morse,
2:30PM, Tue. Jun. 2, 2020
This week marks the first public pool activity in months – and, for some neighborhoods, their first functional community pools in over a year. Starting Monday, swimmers began to return to public pools as pandemic restrictions were lifted. Newly reopened pools include Govalle and Shipe, which had both been closed since late 2018.
The 11 pools reopening will be free for all, with most requiring online reservations and limiting patrons to one, two-hour block per day. The specific facilities were chosen with equity and capacity concerns in mind. Aquatics director Jodi Jay said that the Parks and Recreation Department (PARD) prioritized “ensur[ing] that each community in Austin had its swimming pool within driving distance.” In East Austin, four pools including Govalle are slated to reopen, the most of any geographic area in the city.
However, neighborhood pools often serve smaller crowds, and with pools operating at only 25% capacity, PARD also prioritized seven higher-capacity regional pools for reopening. Without the staff availability to immediately open more pools, including Barton Springs, potential swimmers must reserve time online. And based on the shore-to-shore kayaks covering Lady Bird Lake during sunny weekends – and the overcrowding at Barton Creek Spillway, which is now monitored by park rangers for social-distancing compliance – the lines are likely to be long.
Swimmers may also flock to pools because of the new cost of swimming: $0 at all Aquatics facilities. Taking a dip in Austin’s most popular pools normally costs up to $9 a person; these fees were expected to generate up to $4 million in revenue this year. However, Jay said that the sacrifice was made because of the time constraints put on patrons’ pool usage, and in the interest of equity.
“We want to remove all barriers from people choosing to swim with us,” Jay said.
This doesn’t mean they won’t be taking safety precautions. Necessary barriers include contact-tracing tracking information, a temperature scanner – stay home if you have a fever over 100.4 degrees, please – and masks for all patrons while outside the water.
Although Deep Eddy and Barton Springs are among the highest-capacity Austin pools, they have not yet announced a reopening date, which Jay attributes to lifeguard shortages. The city has hired 200 lifeguards, a quarter of its typical summer total, and the hiring freeze means that there are no current plans to hire any more.
Because of the increased maintenance and lifeguard employees needed to run pools, opening more than the current 11 pools is unfeasible until the hiring freeze is lifted. Instead, Jay said Aquatics is focusing on training current guards, who cannot lifeguard at Barton Springs until they earn open-water certifications. Dates for Barton Springs and Deep Eddy reopening will likely come after lifeguard capacity is reassessed.
Although the most iconic Austin swimming holes remain closed for the moment, Austin is still at the front of the Texas pack in reopening pools – all public pools in San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston remain closed. Jay attributed PARD’s timing to approval from local and state health officials, as well as the unique safety of public pools.
“People are going to choose to swim, and it might be the creek, it might be the river, it might be an apartment complex pool, but in my opinion our facilities are the safest and best choice for a family,” Jay said. “I wanted to get our pools open as soon as possible so we could provide some lifeguarded pools that are safe for our Austin community.”
Opening Mon.-Tue., June 1-2
Govalle Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed Su, Tu, Th
Rosewood Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed Su, W, F
Shipe Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed Tu, Th, Sa
Big Stacy Pool – 6am-noon weekdays; 1-7pm Sun.; Closed M, F, Sa (Lap Swim weekdays; Rec Swim weekends)
Opening Fri.-Sat., June 5-6
Mabel Davis Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed Tu, Th, Sa
Northwest Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed Su, Tu, Th
Walnut Creek Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed M, W, Sa
Bartholomew Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed M, W, F
Garrison Pool – 1-7pm daily; Closed M, W, F
Barton Springs Pool – 5am-10pm daily; Closed M, W, Th
Deep Eddy Pool – 8am-2pm weekdays; 1-7pm Sat.; Closed Su, Tu, F (Lap Swim Only 8am-noon weekdays)