Fort Worth, Texas, has among the highest drowning rates in the state, and for a city with nearly a million residents, the fewest public swimming pools.
Tarrant County, where Fort Worth is located, has the chilling distinction of being in the top three of all Texas counties in fatal pediatric drownings, according to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. On March 24, Cook Children’s Medical Center reported that it has seen 12 child drownings so far this year. By way of comparison, Travis County, with a similar population and where the city of Austin is located, sees an average of 14 total (adults and children) drownings per year.
Parents, experts, and activists believe that Fort Worth’s lack of public pools influences Tarrant County’s drowning rate, because children have fewer public options to learn to swim.
And pools in surrounding areas and comparable cities far outnumber those in Fort Worth. With a population of 900,000 people, Fort Worth can boast only 2 public pools.
Austin, meanwhile has 32 public city pools for its same population of 900,000. Nearby Dallas has 16 pools for its 1.3 million people. Arlington has 5 public pools for 400,000 people.
“The city of Fort Worth is probably not on par with other similar sized cities in providing aquatics facilities,” said Scott Penn, district superintendent with the Park and Recreation Department.
In 2010, the city had seven public city pools, which were all in need of restoration and repair. By 2014, because the city was not willing to put money into restoring the pools, six of those pools were demolished.
The city Park and Recreation Department said the pools were beyond restoration and that repairs would cost more than replacing the pools. Only Forest Park Pool, just south of the zoo, survived the demolitions.But the city had plans to build new pools.
In 2012, the city’s Aquatic Master Plan listed a timeline of five to 10 years to build five new pools. But only one has been built: Marine Park Pool, north of downtown, which is notably smaller than the pool it replaced.
The city has had similar thoughts in mind for the remaining Forest Park Pool, with plans to replace it with a smaller pool. Last year, however, residents protested the planned replacement, and the city agreed to allocate an additional $3 million for the pool’s restoration.
It has been 12 years since Fort Worth has met the Park and Recreation Department’s benchmark of having seven pools. And Penn says that access to swimming pools and swimming instruction are key in drowning prevention.
For the department, aquatics are at the highest priority.
There is some hope on the horizon. As part of the “Stop Six Choice Neighborhood Initiative” that will likely be funded through this year’s bond election, the city plans to add a pool to the historic Stop Six Neighborhood, a mostly African-American neighborhood in southeast Fort Worth.
This is an important development because drowning prevention experts frequently note that the fatal drowning rates for African-American children far exceed that of whites. In swimming pools, African-American children ages 5-19 die at rates 5.5 times higher than that of whites. And the disparity is most stark among kids ages 11-12. In that age group, African Americans are 10 times more likely to drown than their white counterparts.
Michael Moore, president of the Historic Stop Six Neighborhood Association, recognizes this, and said that in his community, African-American kids don’t have a pool within 10 miles of them.
“A lot of Black kids are terrified when it comes to the water because they haven’t had the exposure,” Moore said.
So Moore is hopeful for the new neighborhood pool.
“That’s going to be exciting. It’s going to bring life into the community,” he said.