Construction is underway on a pool at Elmendorf Lake Park on the near West Side. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

At Elmendorf Lake Park on the near West Side, a construction crew was hard at work Saturday digging into a spot that next year will be a new swimming pool.

The pool was a late addition to upgrades at the park at 3700 W. Commerce St. In 2017, the San Antonio River Authority announced the completion of a $14.5 million restoration of the park that started with the design phase in 2013.

It added public art, trails, better lighting, a playground, a splash pad, and features to improve water quality in the lake. The park had a swimming pool before the restoration began, but officials at one point decided it would be too expensive to replace, said Hillary Lily, intergovernmental relations coordinator with the River Authority, which served as project manager.

“The pool was supposed to be part of that restoration project, but as construction went on, there wasn’t enough funding for the pool, so it got cut,” Lily said.

Residents in the surrounding community raised their voices, saying the restoration should bring a pool back to the once-ailing park, according to Lily and Skye Curd, co-chair of the Westside Creeks Oversight Committee.

Local officials listened. When voters passed the $850 million City bond in 2017, it included $2 million for the Elmendorf Lake Park pool.

“This was really driven by the citizens,” Curd said. “They were very outspoken. They would appear at our meetings and voice deep concern about the pool.”

Our Lady of the Lake University lies on one shore of the lake at Elmendorf Lake Park on the West Side.
Our Lady of the Lake University lies on one side of Elmendorf Lake Park on the West Side. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

For years, the park has been a focal point of the neighborhood. Our Lady of the Lake University lies on one side, and the busy thoroughfare of Commerce Street on the other. The City has owned the nearly 30-acre park since 1917.

Improvements to the park are part of the larger Westside Creeks Restoration Project by the City, Bexar County, and the River Authority. It aims to transform parts of Alazán, Apache, Martinez, and San Pedro creeks into functioning wildlife habitats with linear parks and trails to help reconnect surrounding neighborhoods.

Curd said new sidewalks and lighting have helped turn Elmendorf Lake Park from a place that felt unsafe into a family-friendly gathering point.

“Prior to that, I’ll be honest, I never felt safe walking out there,” said Curd, who lives within walking distance of the park. She now takes her 7-year-old daughter there to play.

“Now, as I pass by the park, there’s kids playing in the playground,” she said. “I see families actually walking. I see people walking their dogs, exercising. Just from personal experience, it seems like crime has gone down because families are coming out.”

The lake itself is also improving as a wildlife habitat after the River Authority installed aerators to help get more oxygen into the water, Lily said. Other ecological improvements included rain gardens and bioswales to filter out runoff from streets and parking lots before it enters the lake.

A mosaic bench at Elmendorf Lake Park by local artist Oscar Alvarado. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

The restoration also added art like the wavy metal Aguas Onduladas sculpture by RDG Dahlquist Art Studio, featuring lines of poetry from local writer and former Texas Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla. It also has curving benches covered with colorful mosaics by local artist Oscar Alvarado.

The pool is the last remaining piece of the project. Curd said it serves as an example of how people can spur action from local government if they remain persistent and patient.

“It’s just also a reminder not to get discouraged,” she said. “This pool is a couple years in the making. It wasn’t like the citizens came out and the very next day we had the money, the plans, and the groundbreaking. It does take time.”

Construction should be complete by June, when City pools will reopen for the 2019 season, Lily said.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.