The long past, leaky present, and uncertain future of the Lincoln Park Pool

Lincoln Park Pool

Albany's Lincoln Park Pool will close out its current season on Labor Day. It's the 86th season the pool has been open as a place for people from the city and beyond to splash around, learn to swim, cool off, and relax on a summer day.

It's a landmark space. And it's near the end of its current life.

The pool first opened in 1931 and all those years are showing. It has cracked surfaces, operates below its designed capacity, and doesn't measure up to modern codes. Most notably, the pool simply struggles to hold water, leaking as much as 500,000 gallons a day.

That condition prompted a consultant hired by the city to conclude last fall that the Lincoln Park Pool has reached the end of its useful life and should be completely replaced.

The price tag for that? Maybe as much as $12 million.


Lincoln Park Pool 1931
A photo from the 1931 city engineer's annual report.

The Lincoln Park Pool is eye catching today, with its broad, gently sloped horseshoe outline. It's totally atypical of modern pools, and it looks like something that could be used to listen for alien signals during the off season.

The pool was a replacement for a swimming hole in Lincoln Park -- "Rocky Ledge" -- that was in the ravine of the Beaver Creek. Then, as now, a trunk sewer ran under the spot. And the goal of the new pool was to provide a much safer spot for swimming.

So imagine how the pool must have appeared when it opened to the public on July 4, 1931, with the country spiraling into the Great Depression. That wide expanse of water -- 300 feet across, roughly 1.75 million gallons of water -- then surrounded by a sand beach. The stately bath house acting as an entryway.

It was hugely popular. Newspaper articles throughout the 1930s noted the crowds that flocked to the new pool. And during a hot stretch of July 1936, a city official estimated the pool had drawn more than 20,000 people on multiple days.

Lincoln Park Pool undated historical photo in lifeguards office
An undated photo that hangs in the lifeguard office at the pool.

The pool's popularity carried through the decades. Photos from mid century show big crowds of people swimming and relaxing at the complex. (One exception: 1965, when a drought prompted the closure of the pool. The city organized for buses to take people out to the pool that was at Thacher State Park.)

The Lincoln Park Pool still draws crowds today. But maybe as a result of age or air conditioning or all sorts of other factors, the crowds are much smaller. As of last week, the city reported that approximately 12,000 people had used the pool and bath house this season. Chatting with lifeguards this week, a big day during the height of the season in July will draw roughly 1,000 people.

And, of course, the pool is still free to all.


Lincoln Park Pool medium 2018-08-30

Here's the thing about the Lincoln Park pool: It never really was all that good at holding water -- even when it was first built.

The city engineer's annual report of 1931 notes that "a number of perhaps well meaning but uneasy people were very much alarmed because the pool would not hold water in the very beginning without losing a considerable quantity through the many joints which exist and which were constructed in this pool." The report argues the leakage wasn't really a big problem because saturated ground beneath the pool would slow the water loss in the manner that the bottom of a lake or river acts -- a claim it notes was backed up by results later in that first season.

If that was true, it's most certainly not the case now. Between cracks and other leaks, the pool is losing 300,000-500,000 gallons of water per day, according to a report submitted to the city last fall by the engineering firm Weston & Sampson that based the estimate on conversations with city staff.

For some reference: An Olympic-sized swimming pool typically holds 660,000 gallons of water. So over the course of two days, the Lincoln Park Pool is leaking something like the equivalent of an entire Olympic-sized pool's worth of water.

The pool's water loss came to light (again) in 2016 when a water main valve near Washington Park failed, creating a sinkhole. The pool was closed that August in an effort to conserve water.

"The Water Department continues to monitor the Lincoln Park Pool daily and has taken steps to help mitigate some of the water loss," David Galin, the deputy chief of staff for mayor Kathy Sheehan, said in a statement this week.

Lincoln Park Pool gutter 2018-August-30

Beyond the leaks, the Weston & Sampson report notes a long list of issues with the pool, which is largely unchanged since it was first built. Among them:

+ The pool operates well below its intended capacity because its perimeter gutter system -- state of the art when constructed -- has suffered structural failure (weeds now grow out of the gutter), compromising the pool system's ability to skim the water.

+ The pool's drain allows suction velocities beyond those allowed in modern standards (a safety issue).

+ The pool's disinfection system lacks modern controls for continuously sampling pool water and regulating the pH of the water. (The pH of pool water is an important factor in getting the chlorine level correct.)

In short: "The pool is completely non-compliant when compared with modern codes, but is allowed to operate under rules allowing grandfathering of pools built before 1973."

Given the many problems -- and that a repair of one issue would, under state law, require the city to bring the pool into compliance with other standards -- the Weston & Sampson report concludes that it's time for an entirely new pool.


Lincoln Park Pool entry into pool

So what might the next Lincoln Park Pool look like? The Weston & Sampson report runs through three potential options:

A: Zero Entry
The current Lincoln Park Pool is, in modern pool industry terms, a "zero entry" pool. In other words, the entry to the pool is like a beach, gently sloping into the water (see above). Building a new pool of this type would fit with the historic footprint, be easy for people to enter, and could accommodate a lot of people (about 3,600). But the design would limit activities like lap swimming.

Weston & Sampson estimates that a new zero-entry pool that roughly approximates the size of the Lincoln Park Pool's current water level (so something less than the actual pool width) with a depth of 5.5 feet in the middle would cost between $11 million and $12 million.

B: Zero Entry with Lap Pool and Slide
This option would be half zero-entry pool, half 8-lane lap pool with a slide. In some ways, this would be the best of both the zero-entry and modern lap pool format, though one of the tradeoffs is that it would accommodate a lot fewer people -- roughly 2,000. Projected cost: $9.5 million to $10.5 million.

C: Lap Pool
An 8-lane Olympic 50-meter lap pool with a shallow end. Upside: A pool like this could host competitive swimming events, and is relatively cheap compared to the other options -- $7 million-$8 million. Downside: A much smaller capacity, about 1,200 people.

Regardless of the design, the Weston & Sampson report projects that constructing a new pool would mean having the Lincoln Park Pool closed for one summer.

Figuring out what comes next

Lincoln Park Pool Corning Tower 2018-08-30

It's important to note the process of figuring out what to do is just starting. The city has hired a consultant, Stephen Stimson, to help develop a master plan for Lincoln Park as a whole.

"As part of that process, we will solicit input from neighbors and users of Lincoln Park at a series of community meetings that will be held in the coming weeks -- taking into account current and desired uses for spaces in the park, including the pool and bathhouse," David Galin said.

There's also the issue of how to pay for a new pool. (The city of Troy's pools have been closed for two summers now as it tries to figure out how to pay for millions in repairs or replacement.)

Galin said the city has already submitted a request through the state's consolidated funding application for funding for a Lincoln Park Pool design plan. He said that plan would help determine a timeline for repair or replacement, along with a firmer estimate of the cost. And those details will allow the city to pursue funding for the project.

Lincoln Park Pool report

Here's the Weston & Sampson report:

Lincoln Park Pool Evaluation Report by alloveralbany on Scribd


This pool rocks. Fix it. Not like Albany has others to go to. You'd think municipalities, especially cities, would focus more on maintaining what they have instead of always chasing grants to build new things that they watch atrophy - then try to get a grant to build new again. This is actually a progression engineering courses often teach. Look at capital costs to maintain and see if its better to have something live its useful life and then die rather than spend to maintain. Logic perhaps but not common sense. Right Troy?

My City creates a miniature lake every summer. Can a resident of any other Upstate city make that boast?

Alas, as the report makes clear, the Lincoln Park Pool sorely needs either a major rehab or replacement. I'm honestly impressed the City has kept this behemoth limping along since 1931. With the freeze-thaw cycle around here, no pool should be expected to last more than 50 years without some sort of overhaul. Good job, Albany.

I'd love to see this pool repaired, but if that is not feasible, we should build a pool that can compare to that we are replacing, one that can not only draw Albany's new residents, but impress them.

@ace - read the report. The pool is way beyond a point where fixes could be made. It is not lack of maintenance - it was built that way, it aged, and I even wonder if a new pool could be safely built at the same spot, or soil (or lack thereof) would be the problem after old concrete is removed.
I specifically like the way they word what should read as "pool is only allowed to run because inspectors are very lenient. If there is an epidemic - we warned you". Very diplomatic...

" roughly approximates the size of the Lincoln Park Pool's current water level (so something less than the actual pool width) "

So I imagine right now the pool is filled below historic levels because of the leakage issue, but why wouldn't a new pool take full advantage of all that space? Why not fill it right up to the gutter system?

I understand the gigantic challenge that fixing this pool represents. But the pool is singular - so gorgeous, a landmark. I think that it is worth extraordinary effort. It's also worth noting that in the hot summer months a lot of the patrons are city dwelling kids with no access to air conditioning at home.

It would be great to see the pool redone in a similar style with modern updates. It won't be cheap, but, would anything be? Albany wants to be a nice place to live, not just a state capital with transient workers and suburban dwellers. Build it and they will come.

The pool leaks up to 500,000 gallons of treated, purified water a day!!! Do you guys understand what that means? That works out to 66, 849cf / day which is At the city's rate for large water users that works out to $3,900 a day in lost water. Assuming the pool is open for 3 months this works out to about $350,000 / season. This doesn't even begin to factor in the environmental costs of wasting that much water.

I assume the city is not paying the water department for this which means we are all paying for it in our water bills.

Looking at it in terms of per person, with just 12,000 users in a season, that is $30/ person per visit just for lost water. These are just not sustainable numbers.

Looking it over the lifespan of a pool, we have spent $10 Million dollars over 30 years in lost water. If we put in a new pool 30 years ago it would have paid for itself and we would have had a new pool for free.

This is a function the city should continue to provide for its residents that may not have another option, but this pool is dead and needs to be shut down. It should be replaced with something properly sized to the number of users in today's day and age.

@Albany Landlord - if by properly sized to today's users you mean larger, I agree. The pool gets to capacity OFTEN. I am have trudged down in my suit all excited only to find out there was no room on many occasions. This is a vital city service - it is one of few cool, well supervised spots for city youth to spend their days.

the pool is critical to the neighbors and historic. I like the idea of the zero entry plus lap pool idea...better for exercising and swimming lessons, and attracting more diverse users...but do keep the rowboat-lifeguard station! :-)

BTW, Notice how nobody "worries" about the repairs to Washington Park or Ridgefield or the construction of corning park/Jennings landing but screams when the old bath houses in West Hill, south end and Arbor Hill were closed and Lincoln Park pool has been leaking both water and money? See the pattern? unworthy of Albany

This should be the start of resurrecting the entire park--long overlooked or perhaps even neglected. Perhaps the city ought to be encouraging the use of Lincoln Park for city-wide events, rather than "defaulting" to Washington Park or the Corning Preserve. for example, perhaps the Freihofers or the corporate challenge can run from city hall down eagle around the park, across Swan and finish by the Museum? just a thought

During the years when my daughter was of an age to attend the terrific (much lamented) Time Tunnel Summer Camp at the NY State Museum, she got to swim in the pool every morning, And most days after I picked her up we would head back there together. We agreed then and still think it was the best pool ever. When I have friends visiting and am showing them around the city, I consider it an essential element of the tour --like Jason says, it's a gorgeous, singular landmark.

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