Bell Gardens seeks funds for new aquatic center

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By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

BELL GARDENS — The City Council has unveiled renderings for a renovated $22.7 million aquatics center at John Anson Ford Park, with demolition of the onsite pool scheduled to start this summer.

RJM Design Group, the architectural and engineering firm hired to redesign the center last year, is expected to finish its final blueprints and renderings next week, and an ad hoc committee will issue monthly updates on the project’s ongoing work.

The city’s Department of Public Works is scheduled to solicit approval to bid for the initial tear down phase of the facility at month’s end, and its contract would be considered by the council in April.

City Councilman Jorgel Chavez praised the designs that include a 50-meter swimming pool with eight competition lines, a therapeutic pool, an activity pool with water slides for youth, modern locker rooms with designs for ventilation, a fitness center and a grass seating area with a terrace.

“I’m glad to see the renderings,” Chavez said. “The fitness and locker rooms are good. We should [show] them on social media.”

Funding for the aquatic center is still up in the air as the city prepares to apply for a low-interest loan of about $17 million.

A report prepared by outgoing Recreation and Community Services Director Rozanne Adanto and Public Works Director Grissel Chavez indicated that a public notice for a hearing on a Section 108 Community Development Building Block loan is planned for March.

The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department administers the Section 108 loan guarantee program, and provides funds for long-term community projects when cities are cash-strapped to invest in infrastructure facilities.

In order to gain loan approval for the aquatics center, Adanto said the city plans to recruit support from the Los Angeles County Development Authority, asking it to submit a report for its backing.

City Manager Michael O’Kelly said at the Feb. 14 council meeting that a $6 million federal land and water grant awarded in September is tied to the facility’s initial deconstruction phase as the city cannot move forward unless a notice to proceed is received by the National Park Service.

However, O’Kelly warned that completion of the new aquatics complex, slated for July 2023, could be postponed due to lack of funds or delays on the loan approval.

In February 2021, the city paid RJM Design Group a little more than $1 million to design and engineer the new aquatics center. O’Kelly said the company should keep up with current updates as it agreed to build a website for the project when work begins.

However, the city had to grapple with unforeseen costs as hidden settings were uncovered that threatened to trample the functionality of current and future settings.

For instance, the council gave its approval to a series of new jobs assigned to RJM Design Group for $445,000 to pay for expansion of current air conditioning equipment and electrical components to support an attached gymnasium and auditorium.

Also, the council authorized funds for a study of an underground fuel tank that must be removed before the pool is demolished. Getting rid of the tank would cost $20,000, an expense not yet allocated.

Similarly, it approved work to renew park lighting and drawings for the relocation of the public works satellite yard at the south end of the park.

The job of refurbishing the air conditioning and rewiring it would cost $145,500, and blueprints for the new satellite yard with bathrooms and other services was pegged at $283,450.

Construction of the satellite yard alone is estimated at an additional $3.2 million.

City Councilman Marco Barcena said he is concerned about the project’s multiple parts that may hinder its timely completion, but pledged his commitment to the project because it would benefit many city residents.

“I will request our council to move this project forward as soon as possible,” Barcena said.

Despite potential setbacks due to COVID-19, Adanto expressed confidence that eventual spikes on cases would not hamper the center’s expected completion.

Once the money is available and the surrounding issues impacting the pool’s removal are resolved, she said that “there’s potential for [new] contagions, but it’ll be a very aggressive construction.”

Both Chavez and Barcena voiced a sense of urgency to get the project going.

Chavez said he would tell his constituents the aquatics center should be ready on summer of 2023, while Barcena vowed to assemble its missing parts faster for its full construction.

“I want the council to push harder to get all county and state permits to break ground and complete this project” on time, Barcena said.

The current aquatic center has been closed since 2017 due to lack of access for people with disabilities, and lax health and safety protocols.

On its busiest seasons, up to 380 children a day played in the swimming pool and used its gym before it was closed.


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