Deep Eddy Pool getting a new bottom, decking and expanded beach entry
Pamela LeBlanc, Fit City
Tractors are rumbling through the oldest concrete swimming pool in Texas, and machines are slicing its cement bottom into 4-foot chunks and lifting them out like square slices of cake.
But swimmers who peer over the fence at what now looks like a muddy strip mine shouldn't be too alarmed. City officials say they'll be leaping into a spruced-up, water-tight Deep Eddy Pool come March.
Designers consulted old photographs of the swimming hole, which features a deep end for lane swimming and a large shallow section for waders and children, before planning the improvements. They wanted to retain the historical integrity of the nearly 100-year-old pool while improving its circulation and making it more user-friendly.
The result? Crews are smoothing and slightly extending the shallow side of the pool, creating a zero-depth, walk-in beach entry. They're pouring a new bottom on both sides of the pool, adding another pump outlet and widening decking all around. A wrought iron fence will replace the chain link that now surrounds the pool, and new lifeguard stands will be installed. Minor leaks and cracks are being repaired, too.
Quirky features, such as pool sides that aren't quite vertical but slant outward, and a center wall that divides the shallow side of the pool from the deep side, will remain.
The $2 million project was funded by bonds approved by Austin voters in 2006.
Those bonds will also cover two other city pool projects. Construction of a new Bartholomew Pool, which has been closed since 2009, will begin in May, and renovation of West Enfield Pool will begin in August.
Repairs at Barton Springs Pool will begin in the fall, well after Deep Eddy reopens.
Austin Parks and Recreation officials met with members of the nonprofit Friends of Deep Eddy and other community groups when they planned the project, according to Tom Nelson, division manager for parks and recreation.
The pool is well-loved, but it has shown its age in recent years.
The spot along the Colorado River, just west of MoPac Boulevard, has long been a popular gathering spot for water lovers.
Before the pool opened, people swam, camped and picnicked at a bathing beach named for a swirling eddy created by a huge rock, later blasted away, that jutted out into the river.
Businessman A.J. Eilers bought the beach in 1916. He built the pool, the first outdoor concrete swimming pool in Texas, and added summer rental cottages.
Deep Eddy quickly grew into as much carnival ground as swimming pool. A diving baby (who was really more of a toddler), a man dubbed "the Human Fish," who ate a banana while sitting underwater, and the Great Lorena and her Diving Horse, who plunged off a wooden ramp into a canvas-lined tank 30 feet below, performed regularly.
Bathers could glide down a 70-foot water slide, dive off a 40-foot tower or dangle from a series of rings and trapezes over the water. Attractions included a Ferris wheel, a carousel and nightly silent movies. Admission was 5 cents, and bathers could rent one-piece gray swimsuits to take a dip.
The City of Austin bought the pool in 1935.
Over the years, it has inspired a musical composition, short stories and poems.
A major renovation of the pool's bathhouse was completed in spring 2007. Friends of Deep Eddy raised two-thirds of the money for that $1.5 million project. The facility includes open-air changing rooms, heated showers, bathrooms and a snack bar.
Today, the pool is drained and refilled several times a week. For years, two on-site wells supplied the water; a third was drilled in 2010 to help keep the pool filled even during drought.
Still, a lack of circulation of the water inside the pool was causing algae buildup, which made maintenance difficult. City officials also wanted to make the pool more accessible to a wider group of users. That's why decks are being widened and handicap access improved.
Construction began in late December. A section of the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike trail near the pool is closed during construction. One small oak tree on the west side of the pool will be relocated.
In the end, most pool visitors probably won't notice much difference, Nelson says.
"We're trying to maintain the look and feel of the pool," Nelson says.
Construction should finish by mid- to late March, depending on weather and barring any complications.
"It's almost been 100 years since the pool opened. I think it's really cool that we can come in and do this work and hopefully keep it going another 100 years," he says.