What will happen to 2 long-closed Boise pools? And will their historic facades be saved?

Boise swimmers hoping to take a dive down memory lane may yet get their chance. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, the Boise City Council voted to move forward with efforts to restore and reopen two historic local pools, Lowell Pool and South Pool, with their distinctive Art Deco facades.

Those efforts have been on hold since mid-2022, when they were paused because of a lack of funding.

Mayor Lauren McLean “has made commitments from the standpoint of, ‘We’re going to revisit this,’” Doug Holloway, the city’s Parks and Recreation director, told the Idaho Statesman by phone.

The council voted to pay for a more in-depth study of options for updating the pools – a necessary precursor to seeking funding for the project, Holloway said.

A design team in 2022 “gave us very, very high-level, ballpark figures,” he said. Now, the goal is “to get those figures down to a more exact cost. It won’t be perfectly exact … but it will get us close enough that we will have a good idea to present options and costs associated with those options to the mayor and council, to get direction on how they want to move forward.”

Both pools have been closed since 2020, first because of COVID-19, and then because of concerns about their structure and safety. A city report from 2020 documented several problems with the pools, including possible asbestos in wall insulation, lead paint, corroded pipes, and damage to the interior of the pools’ facilities. City officials decided not to reopen the two pools when COVID-19 restrictions ended.

In 2021, the city’s Public Works Department estimated the cost of fixing these issues – without addressing any additional structural deficiencies – to be about $2.4 million per pool, according to a news release.

South Pool in 1988. City of Boise/Courtesy
South Pool in 1988. City of Boise/Courtesy

In 2022, the city was weighing whether merely to bring the pools up to code or to redesign the pools while keeping the historic Art Deco facades of their entrances. Art Deco is a design style from the 1920s and 1930s known for its geometric, fragmented appearance. The options ranged from $4 million to $6 million per pool. Given the size of the potential investment, the city will also need to ensure both pools are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which will add to the cost, Holloway told the council.

The pools were constructed around 1953, designed by engineer Wesley Bintz, who was known for a patented above-ground pool design. South and Lowell Pools are two of about a dozen remaining Bintz pools in the country, out of more than 100 built between the 1910s and 1960s, according to the release. Fans of the style have created a Facebook page to chronicle his work.

South Pool in 1953. City of Boise/Courtesy
South Pool in 1953. City of Boise/Courtesy

The city held open houses in 2022 to gauge residents’ opinions about the pools’ future, and it conducted surveys of community members that drew thousands of responses, according to the release. Most respondents were in favor of renovating and reopening the existing pools and preserving their “unique architecture and history,” according to an analysis of survey responses.

“The Lowell and South Pools are beloved community assets that serve both a functional community need and celebrate a part of Boise’s rich history,” analysts wrote. “The community is eager for these pools to re-open. Many respondents indicated that the pool closure in 2020 was a major loss for their families and neighbors.”

The city logged nearly 4,000 visits to South Pool and over 5,000 visits to Lowell Pool in 2019.

Lowell Pool in 1961. City of Boise/Courtesy
Lowell Pool in 1961. City of Boise/Courtesy

The City Council voted to spend $160,000 to update potential designs and cost estimates for both pools. The work to complete the new cost analysis is expected to take up to four months. There is no estimated date for reopening the pools.

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