Birmingham to pay for Fair Park planning gaffe

By Johnathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A major Birmingham pool project is back underwater.

The city council learned today it may have to spend millions more on the new pool at Fair Park if it wants to attract major swim meets, all because a basic element was left out of the original $46-million plan.

The Fair Park Natatorium project was supposed to be a way to re-energize the 5 Points West area by bringing world-class swim meets to the facility. But after swim experts from Auburn and other teams took a look at the nearly-finished building they had 1 big question: where's the warm-up pool?

"It's my understanding the warm-up pool had not been planned for from the start," Birmingham Mayor William Bell said Tuesday.

The plans were drawn up while Mayor Langford was mayor and Bell says he is not pointing fingers, just trying to find a way to fix the error.

"The whole concept was built around the concept of a 50-meter pool. But once you start talking to the people who make the decisions on venues, they readily said you must have a warm-up pool to attract the major venues.

"When you go to bid for events, they often have, in the bid requirements, you have to have a specific amount of warm up space before they'll even consider awarding you an event," said Sarah Stallkamp, the director of Auburn's Aquatic Center.

Just designing the warm-up pool will cost more than $400,000 and the actual construction could be millions more, a fact that left some city councilors swimming in anger.

"It's odd to me that when the facility was designed, no one came up with the idea of the warming pool and it should've been included," Council President Roderick Royal said. "I think then was the time because if you needed a warming pool this year, you needed one last year."

"I'm concerned about where the money's going to come from to build the warming pool, but I don't see that we have a lot of options here," Councilor Valerie Abbott said.

The city is hoping to open up the main part of the building in June.

Bell did not say how long it will take to design and build the warm-up pool, which will also require another big vote to pay for construction down the road.

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