The Denton City Council and the Denton school board agreed Monday to take a fresh look at how they operate and share expenses at the Denton Natatorium, an indoor aquatic center located next to Water Works Park.
Council members and school board trustees talked about pool operations during a joint meeting over lunch. Mayor Chris Watts said the group’s discussion followed the same course as other initiatives city leaders have made in recent years.
“We just need to look at the whole program,” Watts said. “If we had to start over from scratch today, what would we do?”
Since the aquatic center is operated as part of a 50-year joint agreement between the city and the school district, a real reboot isn’t possible. The city has operated the Natatorium since it opened in 2003. About a third of the time it’s open, the center is used by the school district.
City Manager Todd Hileman said it costs about $1 million per year to operate the center, a cost that the school district shares. The city brought in a consulting group to identify better ways to run all of the city’s aquatics facilities, which includes the Civic Center Pool along with Water Works Park and the Natatorium.
Part of the reason was to better understand why the facilities were costing so much, Hileman said.
According to the consultant, the city needs to not only better track but also categorize expenses with each facility, said Laura Behrens, the assistant director of parks and recreation. For example, those facilities seen as essential can be tax-funded. But facilities seen as important can be funded with taxes and fees, and those facilities that bring an added value can be funded with fees alone.
For the past 15 years, the city used some of the money earned at Water Works Park to subsidize the Natatorium. Last year, the city raised the admission fees for the park after opening a new wave pool.
Some families criticized the increase, saying it made the park unaffordable. They found an ear in council member Keely Briggs, who opposed the increase last year and said she remains opposed to admission increases at Water Works Park.
School board member Dorothy Martinez takes her grandchildren to Water Works Park, but said that it’s an expensive trip when she does.
“I drop $100 out there,” Martinez said, adding that they enjoy themselves. “I like this place. I don’t want it to be in trouble any more.”
The joint agreement specifies that a committee oversee the Natatorium venture. But the committee hasn’t met since 2005, Behrens said.
School board members and city officials agreed that reconstituting the committee could address problems outlined by the consultant’s report and help get the most out of the indoor facility.
The agreement calls for two staff members each from the city and school district to serve on the committee along with a member of the community, who is to be appointed jointly.
Council member Gerard Hudspeth said he hoped the group would look at the problem holistically.
“The key is to bring more people in, not maximize the dollars of those already coming,” Hudspeth said.
Briggs asked to be updated on the committee’s work.
Behrens pledged to bring back reports and recommendations to the city and the district.
“We would update both bodies,” Behrens said.