City of Miami agrees to deepen Virrick Park pool

For nearly two years, West Grove residents have been locked in a tug-of-war with the City of Miami over the depth of the new pool at Elizabeth Virrick Park on Plaza Street.

Now, the community’s demand for a deeper pool may finally be answered.

Miami City Commissioner Damian Pardo said the city is prepared to modify the pool’s original design to increase the maximum depth from 5 feet 3 inches to 7 feet 10 inches to satisfy community concerns. The change will make the pool deep enough for competitive aquatic sports including water polo.

Updated design plans will be presented to the community on Wednesday, May 29 at the pool’s construction site.

“We’re excited because I think we’ve turned the page,” said Pardo, the third District 2 commissioner to deal with the issue. “This is about residents regaining trust in their city and feeling like there’s a partnership on making Miami a better city.”

The estimated cost of completing the pool as originally designed was $8.1 million. Deepening the pool, amid ongoing construction, will cost an additional $3.2 million and delay the opening date until November 2025, according to Pardo’s office.

Virrick Park’s pool was first opened in 1970. For the mostly Black families in the West Grove, the pool was one of the few ways to stay cool during steamy Miami summers.

But decades-long deterioration plagued the pool, which was closed in 2020 because of the pandemic. Construction on a new aquatic facility began in June 2022. The architect’s plans showed a maximum depth of 5 feet 3 inches, but residents and park employees felt that was barely enough.

“If the depth of the pool is deep enough, it will allow for appropriate aquatic programming for the community,” and create opportunities for student athletes to earn scholarships in aquatic sports, said park manager Vicky Rivers.

Javier Gonzalez, a constituent liaison in Pardo’s office, said competitive programs, including water polo and swimming, will be available almost immediately when the pool opens.

For many who demanded a deeper pool, including West Grove activists and locals looking forward to using the pool, a delay in the pool’s opening date is not a huge setback.

“I would feel worse about the pool not meeting its full potential versus waiting the extra months that it is going to take to get there,” said Ruth Ewing, president of the Elizabeth Virrick Park Committee.

Other features of the pool will be carried forward into the new design, including the zero-entry feature with a play structure, a shallow area for educational programs like Learn to Swim and six swimming lanes. The only feature lost in the new design is expected to be the slide, according to Pardo’s office.

Aesthetic elements and historical art will be preserved in the aquatic facility’s exterior.

Ewing emphasized the importance of keeping Bahamian art elements that coincide with not only the rest of Virrick Park but the surrounding residential community too.

Since January 2024, Pardo’s office has met four times with city officials, the pool designers and West Grove residents to discuss the design of the pool. After a meeting on March 4, Pardo’s office initiated a survey via text message to gather information.

Pardo’s office said they used the survey to better understand what design features residents wanted and to confirm support for the zero-entry component.

“For our purposes, it delivered what we needed because it (the survey) was overwhelmingly in support of zero-entry,” Pardo said.

Pardo said the pool modifications do not require commission approval. City officials and pool architects agreed on the modified design in late April during an on-site meeting.

Now, Pardo’s office is prepared to present the final design to the community. The meeting is scheduled to take place on Wednesday May 29 at 6 p.m. at the pool construction site.

“We’re going out there now for that meeting on the 29th saying ‘this is it’,” Pardo said. “I think we have communicated enough and brought all the parties together to deliver a finished product that the community will embrace.”

FIU student Alexandra Howard wrote this story as part of a cooperative agreement between FIU’s Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media and the Coconut Grove Spotlight. Click here to read the original article published in the Spotlight.

Alexandra Howard is a senior pursuing a dual degree in digital journalism and political science. She intends to later graduate from law school and become an immigration lawyer and political journalist.