Leesburg commissioners want robust downtown plan that could include new pool

What started out as a conversation about contracting for design services for a new aquatic complex quickly turned into a much bigger proposal during Monday’s Leesburg City Commission meeting.

Top photo: Leesburg commissioners agreed Monday night to look at this property on Pine Street, between Canal Street and S Childs Street, as a future possibility for its new $2.86 million aquatic complex, which would include a 5,800-square-foot outdoor multi-use pool with eight lanes, springboard diving and a shallow-water recreational zone with interactive play features. Bottom photo: The property across the street on the south side of Pine Street could be used to house commercial businesses that would benefit from and complement the aquatic facility.

City commissioners initially were presented with an agreement to contract with CPH Inc., a full-service architectural and engineering firm in Sanford, for the design of a multi-use pool and aquatic facility. The firm would be paid $285,300 for the design work on a multi-use pool and aquatic facility, which in essence would replace the Venetian Gardens facility that was closed and torn down this past July to make room for a new community center and the pool at the Dabney Recreation Complex.

Commissioners already have set aside $2.86 million for the new aquatic complex, which will include a 5,800-square-foot outdoor multi-use pool with eight lanes, springboard diving, a shallow-water recreational zone with interactive play features, a 3,500-square-foot bathhouse, a shade structure, hardscape/landscape design, irrigation design, perimeter security fencing and a parking lot.

This is the concept for the new aquatic complex that Leesburg commissioners backed this past June.

In a lengthy and emotional meeting this past June, several pool options were discussed, as well as where to place the aquatic complex. At the time, commissioners agreed to consider the area near the Susan Street Recreation Complex, but no firm decision was made and they agreed to look into different location possibilities down the road.

At Monday’s meeting, the big sticking point in moving forward became the fact that a location hasn’t yet been chosen. That led commissioners to table the item and have a discussion about where the pool should be before moving forward with the design work.

As the discussion progressed, commissioners instructed City Manager Al Minner to come up with a master plan for the pool site and bring it before them as soon as possible. The city’s newest commissioner, Mike Pederson, said he’s not in favor of putting the pool in the Susan Street area because he wants it more centrally located. And Commissioner Jay Hurley said he wants more information about possible location choices before moving forward at all.

The Venetian Gardens Pool, which closed this past July, had been a popular destination for Leesburg residents since it was built in the 1920s.

That then led to an even bigger discussion about getting city leaders, business owners and citizens together to talk about future projects in the downtown area – including the possibility of a pool nearby – and then hiring a firm to help with planning.

“We need to make sure we’re investing our resources right and make sure we get everybody onboard,” Minner said, adding that such a study probably would cost about $100,000 – “money we can’t avoid spending.”

Commissioners agreed it was a good idea to move in that direction, which also included looking into an area on Pine Street near the downtown area as a possible pool location.

The pool at the Dabney Recreation Complex eventually will be closed after Leesburg builds its new aquatic complex.

Minner said the city could purchase a piece of property on the south side of Pine Street, between Canal Street and S Childs Street, for the aquatic facility. And he added that the property across the street also could be purchased, and after some old buildings are removed, it could be used for commercial development to complement the aquatic complex.

“At the end of this, I think the community’s goal is we want an asset that brings folks in, an asset that our folks cherish and promote and enjoy and improves Leesburg,” Minner said.

At the June meeting, commissioner also tackled rumors that some Leesburg residents wouldn’t go to the new pool if it’s located in the Susan Street area. Then-Commissioner Bob Bone called that kind of thinking “foolish” and stressed that “Leesburg is bigger than this.”

Coach Hubert O. Dabney

Mayor John Christian, who was serving as mayor pro tem at the time, agreed.

“To say someone is not going to go to the swimming pool, I say if they don’t want to go, too bad,” he said. “We are building a complex for all Leesburg residents. So my vote is always do what’s best for taxpayers, not what’s best for who wants to do it because it’s in my neighborhood.”

That June meeting also saw many residents saying that regardless of where the aquatic facility is located, it should be named after the late Hubert O. Dabney, a longtime coach and teacher who was extremely active in the community and was instrumental in getting the city to build a swimming pool in the Carver Heights community in 1954 – a facility he oversaw and used to teach swimming lessons to black children and adults from throughout the local area.