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Fix the pool or build a new one?

Commerce residents face a tough choice - whether to repair the city's decrepit pool or replace it.

About 40 Commerce residents attended an open forum hosted by the city council Monday evening. The topic was the city pool – and what to do about it. The pool closed last summer when the water pump broke.

"Nobody up here wanted to close the pool," said mayor John Balloti.

The city received an estimate in February that placed the cost of repairs at $230,000-$260,000. There are a number of needed repairs at the aging facility in addition to the water pump.

"I don't want to give up on it." -Richard Hill

Add that cost to the annual operating cost of 60 thousand dollars and that’s not even close to being doable in this year’s budget, said councilwoman Sue Davis.

"Three hundred thousand is unacceptable right now," Davis said. "Knowing the budget like we know it and as many cuts as we've already made - I just don't see how it could work."

Neither council members nor those attending the event advocated abandoning the idea of Commerce having a municipal pool. The evening's discussion was a concerned but polite exploration of the two basic options - repairing the pool or building a new one.

The repair option appealed to those who wanted to find a way to open the existing pool either this summer or the following summer - even if the facility's eventual closure is inevitable.

"I don't want to give up on it," said councilman Richard Hill, who questioned the estimated repair price tag of roughly $250,000. "Drain it, let's take a look at the pipes ... get together and find out exactly what it takes to get (the pool) back to running. Some of those (repairs) could go undone. We might not be able to get a swimming pool with a diving board. We might not be able to paint the bottom of the pool. There's a lot of things we may not be able to do, but is there enough that we can do as citizens of this community to do our best to make this (pool) operable where we will still have it?"

Several residents also expressed skepticism about the estimate, which was prepared for the city by Texas Waterworks of Farmers Branch. Robert Baxter of Texas Waterworks visited the site on Feb. 21. The estimate cost roughly $1,450, according to city officials.

Others questioned the prudence of sinking money into a facility whose years, if not up yet, appear clearly numbered.

Council members agreed that considering the city's current fiscal status - the cost of ongoing road projects, anticipated losses from Covidian's possible departure - provides little room for extra expenses. Money for a new pool would have to come from a bond, council members said.

It is unclear when a bond funding a new pool could be put before the public for a vote. The May 2013 electoral ballot is already determined. No November election is scheduled in 2013. A bond could appear on the May 2014 ballot, or a special bond election could be held, council members said.

Another issue dogging the city - the fate of the Commerce Public Library - found its way into the discussion, as some suggested a new pool could be integrated into a facility also hosting the city's library.

"I still think we need to use our resources to have a new facility a and a new library and a new recreational facility," Davis said. "Commerce needs that for a drawing card. We're trying to better the community and we want better facilities."

Melinda Reid, an organizer for the youth swim team Commerce Tigersharks, said that her organization has the resources to provide volunteer work to help the city manage the cost of both repairing and also operating the pool.

"We are offering our time and talents and kind of 'sweat equity' to save our swimming for this year," Reid said.

The next scheduled meeting of the Commerce city council is 6 p.m. April 16.

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.