Bell Gardens secures new funds for pool project

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

BELL GARDENS — Plans to rebuild the John Anson Ford Park’s aquatic center received a big financial boost after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors authorized a motion by Janice Hahn to allocate $4 million for the regional complex. 

The recent allocation will help fill a financial gap the city has struggled with since it first announced in 2019 efforts to tear down the dilapidated 50-meter pool and replace it, adding therapy and youth pools, a gym, indoor ventilated lockers and a seating area with a terrace. 

The city reported to the Los Angeles County Development Authority that the modern aquatics center would cost $23.7 million, money the city needs to raise in full before it gets clearance to demolish the old facility. 

“Public pools are vital to healthy neighborhoods,” Supervisor Janice Hahn said in a statement Dec. 20. “They provide opportunities for exercise and learning and fun to residents of all ages, from children to seniors and everyone in between.

“We have soccer fields, we have basketball courts, but pools are too few and far between. With these funds we’re breathing life back into this big asset for Bell Gardens and its neighbors in Southeast Los Angeles.”

With the addition of $1.5 million from outgoing U.S. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard that she said was streamlined as part of a community project funding bill for her old 40th Congressional District, Bell Gardens now has about $16.5 million for the project, with $7.5 million still to raise.

Yet, total funding for the aquatics center is slated to arrive from several sources, and looming deadlines to keep allocations have forced council members to consider shifting funds from the city’s general budget to avoid reimbursements. 

Initially, allocations worth $2.5 from federal community development block grants from 2019 through 2022 helped pay for engineering and blueprints from RJM Design Group. 

In 2021, the project received a $6 million grant from National Park Service through the Federal Land and Water Fund, and recently $2 million more from an allocation sponsored by former Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia. 

However, the state and federal allocations have not been released, and if the city fails to raise all the money by the end of January it would be forced to return $1.5 million from the block grants it already spent on engineering fees. 

Aware of the pending deadline, City Manager Michael O’Kelly along with Recreation and Community Services Director Elizabeth Nava and Public Works Director Grissel Chavez prepared a motion for the City Council to shift $14.6 million from the budget’s general fund to comply with the county’s Development Authority and provide evidence the money has been secured. 

That ordinance was ready for City Council approval Dec. 12, but was postponed due to the swearing-in ceremony of newly elected Councilwoman Francis De Leon Sanchez and the naming of new Mayor Alejandra Cortez.  

The scheduled council meeting for Dec. 26 was canceled due to the end of the year holidays, and now the item is likely to be discussed when the City Council reconvenes Jan. 9.

Data from the projected ordinance indicates that demolition and construction of the aquatics center will cost $19.1 million, plus $4.6 million more to cover architects, engineering, project and construction management, material testing and inspection. 

O’Kelly indicated that in view of the county’s Development Authority, only the $6 million Land and Water Conservation award and $3.17 million from block grants had been secured, including a portion allocated for fiscal year 2023-24 on Dec. 12. 

A second financing option was to get a bank loan, but both Nava and O’Kelly rejected that idea due to the high interest fees a development loan would impose. 

“Note that staff would continue to pursue other funding sources throughout the project’s duration in order to minimize the impact on the general fund,” O’Kelly wrote in the ordinance proposal. 

If the City Council votes in favor of the appropriation, city staff will submit the bid package to the county for review and approval, followed by its release to bid takers and selection of a construction contractor. 

Before action on the ordinance was postponed, timelines had been set for the bidding process to start in February, hiring of a contractor in April, and construction to begin in June. 

Once demolition and construction work is approved, the new facility is expected to be ready in 18 months.

Cortez thanked Hahn for her commitment to restore a public pool that has been out of service for five years. 

“The city of Bell Gardens appreciates the support of the supervisor’s office,” Cortez said. “The $4 million contribution to Bell Gardens aquatic center project goes a long way towards providing the residents with an aquatic center where they can learn life saving swimming skills, receive therapeutic benefits, enjoy recreational activities and have the opportunity to compete in Olympic quality aquatic programs.”