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Will Asheville rebuild Malvern Hills Park pool with bond money? Community pushes for plan.

The Malvern Hills Park Pool in February 2024.
Felicia Sonmez
The Malvern Hills Park Pool in February 2024.

Community members met with Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer and City Council Member Sage Turner last week to discuss including the Malvern Hills Park swimming pool in an upcoming bond referendum.

The meeting comes nearly three months after the city abruptly announced the 90-year-old West Asheville pool will be closed this summer, citing safety issues and the cost of repairs. The announcement prompted an outcry from residents, who voiced their frustration to city Parks and Recreation staff at a community meeting in late February.

“We’re hoping that there will be some strong language that would commit to rebuilding the pool when they propose a bond referendum,” Brooke Heaton, one of the organizers of the Rebuild Malvern Hills Pool effort, told BPR in a phone interview Monday afternoon.

“But we want to ensure that whatever language is used is in some way very binding, because we have seen incidents in the past where prior to a bond referendum, commitments had been made to complete certain projects and ultimately those projects are either downsized or perhaps not fulfilled,” he added.

City staff confirmed that the meeting took place on Friday but did not have further details.

“Since it was not a public meeting, meeting minutes were not taken and staff did not attend,” a City of Asheville spokeswoman, Jessica Hughes, said in an email.

A petition to rebuild the pool had garnered more than 2,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

Much of the frustration expressed by community members in February stemmed from the fact that city officials had not proposed a long-term plan eight years ago, when the Malvern Hills Park Pool was found to have “seen its life use.” At the time, contractors advised the city “not to put more money in the current pool.”

The historic Malvern Hills Park pool house in February 2024.
Felicia Sonmez
The historic Malvern Hills Park pool house in February 2024.

At a city council briefing in February, Parks and Recreation Director D. Tyrell McGirt said the construction of a new pool would cost at least $1.5 million. The co-organizers of the Rebuild Malvern Hills Pool effort now say the most up-to-date estimate is about $3 million.

Sally Grau, a co-organizer of the effort, said community members are planning to attend the next two City Council meetings in May to show their support for the pool. City leaders are expected to approve in June the upcoming fiscal year’s municipal budget and bond referendum to put before voters in November.

“It’s just a pool that means a lot to a lot of people. And that’s really why we’re trying to get the city to reinvest in it,” Grau said. “It’s utilized by summer camps, church groups. I’ve seen birthday parties there. There’s the summer camp for adults with intellectual disabilities that brings its residents there daily.”

Members of the group met Sunday to discuss their strategy, according to a notice on the petition’s website, which described last week’s meeting with city officials as an “exciting update.”

“However, we still need to get at least one more City Council member on board with adding a provision about funding for Malvern Hills Pool to the GO Bond,” the notice reads. “We need … as many members of the community as possible to (a) email City Council and (b) attend City Council meetings (May 14 and 28).”

Asheville Parks and Recreation Director D. Tyrell McGirt acknowledged the community’s disappointment in an interview at February’s community meeting.

“It’s a special place,” he said at the time. “And this pool means a lot to a lot of people, especially the people that live right around the community. So, we share that pain of having to make the tough decision of closing the pool for the summer. ... But we also understand where all the needs are across all of the Asheville Parks and Rec system.”

Grau’s eight-year-old daughter, Amelia, has frequented the pool since she was a year old. She said she hopes the city rebuilds the pool so that she can continue to have a place to play in the summer.

“My favorite thing probably is hanging out with my friends and going underwater,” she said.

If the council – and voters – approve the bond package, the goal would be for the pool to be rebuilt and reopened as early as June 2026, Grau said.

Felicia Sonmez is a reporter covering growth and development for Blue Ridge Public Radio.