Belmont Pool redesign could lose the dome and put swimming facilities outside

Projected sea-level rise, as well as the swelling costs of the proposed Belmont Plaza Pool replacement project, could be avoided altogether as the city looks to reimagine what the future pool complex, the Belmont Beach & Aquatics Center, will look like.

The decision to pursue another design for the pool came after legal challenges and concerns from the California Coastal Commission of what impact rising sea levels could have on the building.

A yet-to-be submitted new design could include pushing the pools farther north by 20 to 30 feet on the shoreline away from the water to create a facility that’s more resilient to future sea-level rise, and could eliminate the trademark translucent dome that dominated the renderings of the originally approved project.

Assistant City Manager Tom Modica said that the price of the project, which has grown from $103 million to about $145 million due to tariffs on steel and other economic forces, could fall into the $80 million range once the design is completed.

Modica said that a new design could be completed as soon as two to three months from now and he’s hopeful that the design could be in front of the Coastal Commission for approval six months after that. Under a best-case scenario construction could start as soon as 2022 with an anticipated build out of 18 months.

To close the funding gap which will likely still exist even with a scaled down project, Modica said the city has not ruled out an earlier idea of turning to private fundraising to pay for the remainder of the cost of the pool.

“We’ve done some testing to see if fundraising is possible and that testing found that a range of about $10 million to $15 million was an achievable goal,” Modica said. “But we need to have a pool designed and approved to garner some of that private funding.”

The old Belmont Plaza Pool was deemed seismically unsafe and was torn down in December 2014. A temporary pool was installed on site for swimming activities to take place while the city moved toward a permanent replacement.

The City Council approved the plans for the new pool in May 2017, a move that was quickly followed by a legal challenge by a group of residents who contended that the height of the new pool complex, which included a large dome enclosure, was improperly granted height variance, among other things.

Residents had complained in March 2017 that the city did not erect “story poles” to demonstrate the true height of the proposed structure, leading to the city installing a single pole with two flags to demarcate the old building height and the new one, a difference of about 18 feet.

Ultimately the city won that battle after a judge ruled in July 2018 that the design of the pool did not violate state environmental rules.

However, that did not do away with the issues of cost and the potential for rising sea levels to impact the building in the future.

A study prepared during the circulation of the environmental impact report stage of the project anticipated sea level rise of several feet by 2060, something that could possibly inundate much of the proposed complex. But, it noted that by that time much of the Peninsula and Belmont Shore would also be under water by that time.

The projected cost of the facility had also ballooned to over $103 million at the time it was approved in 2017, far more than the roughly $61 million the city had budgeted in its Tidelands Fund to pay for the complex.

The shortfall has mired the project as the price of oil—the Tidelands is an oil-based fund—has dropped from about $90 per barrel when the project was first being discussed to about $60 per barrel in June 2019.

Reconfiguring the pool complex to be farther from the shoreline and to be constructed without the translucent dome could bring the cost down to the $80 million range and alleviate the concerns raised by the California Coastal Commission earlier this year about the impact of rising sea levels on the pool. Modica said that by pushing the project back the estimated 20-30 feet that new structure would be outside of the wave uprush zone that would likely occur during a 100-year storm under projected sea level rise models, a primary concern of coastal commissioners.

The pool would still include all the proposed swimming and diving facilities originally included in the project that was approved by the council but the pools would all be located outside with the elimination of the dome.

Councilwoman Suzie Price said that there could be an opportunity for an enhanced play area for young children to be incorporated into the design which could help them become more comfortable with water at a young age.

“If we could introduce them to water in a fun way I think that would be a great opportunity for us,” Price said. “If anything we’re adding, not reducing.”

She noted that the loss of the dome in the redesign could exclude the pool from getting some competitive events since it wont have the covering needed to protect against wind and other elements but did not rule out a cover of some sort being added in the future.

“The primary purpose of the pool is recreation, not competition,” Price said. “There are very few indoor pools in Southern California anyway so it’s not as though we’re going to be putting ourselves at a disadvantage with other pool facilities in the area.”

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Losing the dome could actually serve to bring arguably one of the largest events to the city. Modica said that the city has been in talks to bring Olympic outdoor diving to Long Beach and that representatives from the 2028 Olympics, which will be hosted by Los Angeles, are “interested.” Mayor Robert Garcia identified the pool project as one of eight priority infrastructure fixes he wanted the city to complete in time for the 2028 Olympics.

“By doing this we actually facilitated the chances of having Olympic diving here in Long Beach,” Modica said.

Modica said that the constraints of being indoors would have prevented the amount of seating the Olympics representatives wanted for its events but by having outdoor diving pools the city could install temporary stands for a larger audience and be able to better utilize the panoramic backdrop of the Long Beach shoreline that would otherwise be obscured by the dome.

That the pool project is moving forward with a redesign is something that Price said could improve enthusiasm for the project because the re-design could represent something that is affordable and achievable.

“You’re never going to have any project in the city where you’re going to have 100% happiness or satisfaction and support for but I think, for the most part, the community that is engaged with this project is very supportive of the pool,” Price said. “They’d like to see a pool that is feasible and serves as a community recreation facility more so than a pool that would be perfect for every user group that’s not feasible.”

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Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post.