Lessons from the Garden Hills Pool House Project

At our June PARC meeting (that’s Parks Atlanta Rescue Coalition), we visited with Jeff Clark at the Garden Hills Pool House. Jeff is the President of the pool’s volunteer board of directors, and under his leadership they built a BEAUTIFUL new pool house … all with money raised through 36 months of painstaking fundraising.

Fundraising is just one of the many difficult parts of completing a park improvement project. Check out what Jeff had to say during our meeting about the pool and the over-all process of working with the City to create this amazing neighborhood amenity.



IF you don’t have time to read through this whole post (and trust me it’s long), here’s the BIG PICTURE lessons that you can take away from the Garden Hills Pool House improvement project!

  • Start fundraising EARLY;
  • Involve community members and ask for input;
  • Take advantage of Park Pride’s Fiscal Partners Program!
  • Stagger volunteer involvement in major projects so as not to lose LOTS of institutional knowledge all at once!
  • Create and maintain a strong and positive relationship with the City (whatever city that may be);
  • Don’t lose sight of the end goal – the road may be long, but you can get there!


Talk to us a little bit about the pool, Jeff.

The new Garden Hills pool house has been open since Memorial Day.

The pool is open from 10:30 to 5pm every day. There are 2.75 hours of FREE swim is from 10:30-1:15 – we have actually extended it 45 min beyond the required 2 hours. Free swim is during the week only. During the summer, there are at least 6 different summer camps that will use the facility free of charge during that time. Outside of those hours, you have to pay the regular admission cost to use the pool.

We run a tight ship financially with 675 memberships sold annually with a renewal every year. This year, we sold out of memberships in 14 hrs. 50% of the memberships are purchased by families living in the 30305 zip code (that of Garden Hills) and 50% from outside the zip. However, you have to be resident of City of Atlanta to be a member. Clearly, there is a huge demand for pools, and not enough pools to accommodate. For those who have bought memberships, the pool remains open until 8:30pm during the week and until 9:30pm on the weekends. Members also get to enjoy movie and trivia nights.

Revenue for the pool comes from: daily admissions, rental of the Garden Hills Recreation Center, and annual membership fees.


Why did you decide to redo the pool house?

Again, the way this pool is run has always been a great example of a public private partnership. The City was responsible for winterizing and de-winterizing the pool for a while, but in 2011 it was done incorrectly. When the water was turned back on in the summer, tiles were blown off the walls when five pipes burst all at the same time. We knew that something had to be done, but just to fix it was going to cost $100K, mostly due to the policy to make it ADA compliant and bringing it up to code.

The Old Garden Hills Pool House

Yet, neighbors didn’t want to pay to redo a building that was in need of a complete overhaul. That would have been more money than it was worth. They wanted something new. Barbara (a fundraising consultant and leader of Barbara Howell and Associates, who also worked with Bitsy Grant Tennis Center) wrote up a proposal for a publicity campaign about what it would mean to really redo the pool house. Until then, very few of our patrons or neighbors recognized the significant impact that the pool had within the community. When we started talking about building the new facility, it united the neighborhood. We warmed up a lot of people who were pretty cold to us initially. We illustrated to neighbors how well used the facility is with Camp Best Friends, swimming lessons and local swim teams. We setup a website, email campaign, and began working with civic and neighborhood associations. We talked to whoever would let us. It was really great.


Tell us about your fundraising campaign.

The whole campaign (good PR and fundraising) started in 2011. Barbara completed a survey of what people in the neighborhood wanted to see as part of the pool house: More stalls in women’s bathroom, places for having parties, designs that did not allow kids to leave the premise unseen…

Based on all the community input and what they wanted, we knew what we were looking at would total $500-600K. We put out an RFP for design/build. This is the best way to get a building done on a budget. We sat down and reviewed 5 proposals. All were awesome, but none came in under $500K. Most came in close to $1 million.

This building design was $750K – we selected this group but told them to bring it down to $500K. When they said no, we started fundraising unsure that we could raise that much.

FORTUNATELY, Park Pride came in early with a $100K grant – that grant changed everything. We had been rejected by endowments and lots of wealthy family groups. But with Park Pride’s endorsement, Buckhead Coalition then came in; after that it was like dominoes falling into place.

We partnered with the Garden Hills Neighborhood Foundation 501(c)3 in the neighborhood to fundraise. We didn’t use Park Pride’s Fiscal Partners program because we didn’t want to pay the 2.5% service fee – we thought it would be a significant cost for us. But in retrospect I wish we would have, we would have saved a lot of time spent on administrative tasks.

We continued to fundraise through 2013. One of the best things we did to raise money was to have neighbors host parties at their houses and sell tickets to each of those parties. We had 20 parties that raised $25K. We hosted these parties throughout the year – New Years, poker night, St. Patty’s day, etc. Lots of good-will was built within the neighborhood. We all had fun together – it’s a blast. The Garden Hills Neighborhood Foundation hosted a gala for the neighborhood and that raised about $50K.

By August of 2013 we had raised $650K. We had a deadline to start construction in order to complete the facility during the off-season. We felt we could raise the remainder of the funds over that winter. City of Atlanta Parks Department agreed to co-sign on a note because we have good financials and we were able to secure financing from Georgia Commerce Bank for the remaining construction funds. Then we were ready to build.


The newly completed Dan Martin Pool House


It’s also important to note that this pool house is an EarthCraft building. Now it’s much sounder environmentally. This actually helped us raise money. We were able to get the EarthCraft funding by folks who wouldn’t have funded the pool itself.

To this day, $805,000 has been raised. 50% has come from individuals and we estimate that 60% of the households in the neighborhood have participated.


Why have you raised so much?

The initial budget for the facility was set in the fall of 2011 but we did not start construction until two years later. With the economy recovering, the cost of construction has really taken off in this town. With inflation and simply having to pay workers more money, costs rose. The building ended up being $895K. We also had several big issues uncovered when the old building was demolished, as well as some building code mandated changes that were not anticipated in the original budget.

We now just need $80K to pay off the debt.


Tell us a bit about the pool’s relationship with the City of Atlanta.

This project is a great example of a successful public/private partnership. In the 80s, the City of Atlanta wanted to shut down the pool because there were little funds to sustain and maintain it. Members of the neighborhood wanted to keep it open, and worked with the City to make it happen at no cost to the City.

The annual membership model raised funds to operate the facility while maintaining public access (10:30am-5pm). For patrons buying a membership, they have access to the pool until 8:30pm during the week, and until 9:30pm on the weekends.

The City of Atlanta pays for water and electricity. The newest lease allows us to keep the pool open all year – which is a change from past years. The Garden Hills Pool & Park Association maintains the facility, provides all staffing and does all capital improvements. The City has provided assistance in the past when major expenses have been encountered. The GHPPA also runs the Garden Hills Recreation Center that is just cross the street. Few community halls have reasonable rental rates, but ours is at $35 an hour. There is a fixed fee on Friday and Saturdays. Rentals from this building generate about $75K. The building itself costs about $40K to manage yearly, and the $35K difference is used to offset the costs of the pool.

Our agreement with the City in building this pool house was that we’d do the fundraising and actual building of it as a private entity, and then we’d donate it to the City. They allowed us to name the building before we donated it back to them, which had never been done before. Dan Martin, whose name is on the building, was a major supporter of the Garden Hills community and his family provided significant support during fundraising for the building.


Anything else to tell us about this project?

We have 14 member volunteer board of directors who are responsible for making the Garden Hills Pool run. They work tirelessly to provide this facility for the community. It is a labor of love, but each of them knows the impact that the Garden Hills Pool has for the City of Atlanta. All of them for nervous when we committed to this project, and few of them had the resources to help raise the funds.

The endorsement and early support of Park Pride was the cornerstone for the success of this campaign. The new Garden Hills Pool House is a shining example of how a challenge grant from Park Pride can be amplified to make a huge impact on the community.


Thanks for sharing, Jeff! And congratulations on a job well-done!


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