Residents endorse new Virrick Park pool design

The hands of nearly 50 West Grove residents shot into the air on Wednesday evening at Elizabeth Virrick Park on Plaza Street after Miami District 2 Commissioner Damian Pardo asked if they agreed with the city’s new plan to build a deeper pool at the park.

Since early 2023, shortly after construction began, community members have been demanding that the City of Miami modify the pool design to allow for a full complement of aquatic sports, including water polo.  

On Wednesday, city officials presented residents with two options during an on-site meeting at the park: stay the course and construct a pool with a maximum depth of 5 feet 3 inches, or delay the project and increase the budget to deliver more depth.

Overwhelmingly, residents chose the second option – a pool with a maximum depth of 7 feet 10 inches.

That option will add an estimated $3.2 million to the original $8.1 million price tag, and delay the opening until November 2025, about a year longer than anticipated.

The new design will allow for water polo training and competition. High school and college students will be more likely to use it, supporters say, and since the West Grove is a historically Black community, it will bring diversity to aquatic sports.

Not everyone was in agreement, however. Guillermo de la Paz said the community would be wasting time and money to make the pool deeper. De la Paz said the $3 million could be better allocated to renovating the grass and the library at the park.

“There was a lot going on with the pool and we got [the current depth of the pool] wrong for whatever reason. I do not want to point any fingers,” he said. “To make it right, we have to spend $3 million and [wait] another year?”

Rick Holton, a 72-year-resident of the West Grove, responded that a deeper pool would be better for the neighborhood. He was one of the first lifeguards when the original pool opened in 1970.

“We know what we want, and if it costs $3 million, $4 million, $6 million, fine,” he said. “Then get it done right, the way we want it.”

Thirteen-year-old Marali Ewing-Dyer, a student at South Miami High who previously attended Ransom Everglades, says she’s looking forward to swimming laps in the pool.

City officials still need to ask the state Department of Health review board for a variance to approve the new design, which adds a set of steps to connect the deeper lap pool to the shallow zero-entry and “learn to swim” portions of the pool.

Pardo’s office hopes that public support for the new design will result in a favorable ruling. A decision could come as soon as July 10.

Residents and members of local organizations like the Virrick Park Committee were eager to sign a petition showing their support. Linda Williams, a West Grove resident and former vice chair of the Coconut Grove Village Council, signed the petition. She said the pool can finally form bonds between communities.

“We would like to invite others here to enjoy our community and our pool,” Williams said. “We do not want to go to Shenandoah pool, the University of Miami pool, or the Ransom [Everglades] pool. That’s what it means to us, an opportunity to bridge gaps and be proud of something that represents our community well.”

FIU student Alexandra Howard wrote this story as part of a cooperative agreement between FIU’s Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media and the 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.