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Design Commission gives the green light to the public bathhouse project

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Photo by Austin Public Works

Wednesday 1 December 2021 by Elizabeth Pagano

With the unanimous blessing of the City’s Design Commission, plans for the renovation and restoration of the historic Barton Springs Bathhouse continue to move forward.

The 1947 Barton Springs Public Baths are unmistakably historic, with historic city, state, and federal designations all coming with their own set of requirements for rehabilitation. On the city side, this includes visits to the Historic Monuments Commission and the Design Commission, as well as an ongoing extensive public awareness campaign launched in 2018 with a design meeting. The November design committee vote confirmed that the project meets the design and sustainability standards set by the city.

The project, which is estimated to cost $ 8 million, will be funded by a combination of 2012 bonds, historic preservation fund dollars, grants and donations. The rehabilitation concerns the showers on both sides of the building, and the opening of the rotunda at the entrance to the swimming pool.

We’re bringing back the historic setup of (the rotunda) so we can have an entrance to the pool through there, said Riley Triggs, with the city’s public works department. In the process, the project team will reverse some changes that date back to the 1980s. Nothing good, architecturally, happened in the 1980s. No difference here, he says. In addition, changes will be made to the current Splash exhibit and the interior spaces of the rotunda.

Architect Laurie Limbacher explained that originally, the public entered through the rotunda before heading to one of the basketball halls to change from more formal attire to swimsuits. However, as traditions changed and people began to arrive already equipped, the concept of basket rooms fell into disuse and areas were revamped, with the male side becoming what is now the Splash exhibition and administrative offices taking over from the feminine side.

Austin Public Works

It will be really exciting to be able to bring people back to the center of the building, she said. This was one of the main objectives of the project.

The showers will be re-plumbed and receive new fixtures, and some structural issues with the tile and concrete, which have deteriorated over the years, will be fixed. A lot of the work in this area will be trying to fix and restore things that have just aged over the years, Triggs said.

The structure will be shored on the west side to deal with flooding and an entrance will be added, beyond the men’s facilities, for those who have purchased tickets from automated kiosks.

The rehabilitation of the public baths precedes the vision plan which is currently in progress for Zilker Park and is part of an earlier plan this was approved by the city council in 2009. Although the design team tried to tackle the parking lot near the main entrance, Limbacher said it was getting really complicated. So for now, the only change will be to eliminate corner parking in favor of 90 degree parking. Any other changes will be part of the current visualization process.

(It’s) long overdue for all of us, said Commissioner Aan Coleman. I am delighted that this is actually happening.

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