Another summer without the Hercules Aquatic Center is coming to a close, and yet the future of this once vibrant public swimming pool park is still dried up.
Pasco County Schools, which owns the nearly 16 acres, wants to figure it out, and they’ve enlisted the Zephyrhills City Council to help them. But coming to a consensus may prove more difficult than either side realized.
“We do have to be realistic,” Council President Lance Smith said during the council’s regular Aug. 26 meeting. “It’s a loser — financially — but it does provide a service that is needed. And the question is, at what cost do we feel that we can provide it?”
Pasco County leased the property from the school district for nearly two decades, maintaining a large public swimming pool there. However, budget cuts in 2009 forced the county out, threatening to close the park, which is located on the corner of US 301 and CR 54.
The Zephyrhills Police Athletic League kept Hercules open in 2010, but didn’t return after that. The main problem was the cost to maintain the facilities, estimated at just north of $100,000.
Even if Zephyrhills decided to lease the property from the school board and reopen the park, there are some other obstacles in the way.
First, the county has plans to widen CR 54, which is going to force both the park and its immediate neighbor to the east, Zephyrhills High School, to give up some land. That means the school’s baseball fields and some of the parking lot to its outdoor athletics complex would need to be reconfigured, possibly taking some of the land where Hercules is now.
On top of that, the school board wants to cash in on part of the land, namely the piece that sits directly on the corner of US 301 and CR 54, which could be sold to build a potential gas station there.
“We are being asked to give up the most attractive and profitable piece of property and really push it to be a gas station,” said Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson. “But it’s either that or do nothing, right?”
School district officials have mentioned turning Hercules into a maintenance facility for its area schools, and anything that happens to the westernmost piece of the property would still have to go in front of the council for rezoning, City Manager Jim Drumm said. If the city wanted to control that piece, it may have to cough up at least $1.2 million, which is about $1 million more than what the city even has on hand to deal with parks.
Allen Altman, who represents the Zephyrhills area on the Pasco County School Board, encouraged city officials to work with the school district on creating something the entire community can enjoy at Hercules Park.
“One of the things I have pushed for since I was elected was for us to participate with other governments as much as possible,” Altman said. “It cuts down on replication and provides as much savings and benefits to the taxpayer as possible.”
Altman acknowledged that the school board was exploring all possibilities with the land, including a potential sale of a portion of it, but he’s confident both governments can develop the best plan for both.
“It’s a beautiful piece of property,” Councilman Kenneth Compton said. “Talk about one of the best pieces of property, and that’s it. Just see this beautifully treed area, and then I just envision a gas station. I don’t know if I like that.”