District officials host pool meet
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Frustrated swimmers confronted Alameda Unified School District officials Wednesday over their sudden and unannounced decision to close the Emma Hood and Encinal swim centers late last week – and demanded assurances the pools would reopen soon.
But the district’s chief business officer, Robert Shemwell, said at the meeting with swimmers that he couldn’t offer those assurances. He said it will be up to the Board of Education and City Council to decide whether they want to pay the anywhere from $300,000 to $8 million it could cost to keep the pools open, depending on the fixes that need to be made.
Swimmers who attended the meeting – which had to be moved from the district’s conference room to Kofman Auditorium to accommodate the dozens of people who showed up – said they were upset the Board of Education chose to make the decision to close the pools in a vaguely noticed, closed-door meeting held Thursday and then failed to notify them that the decision had been made. They’re concerned the Island’s swim programs will suffer or disappear entirely if the pools aren’t reopened, and they want the district to step up to help find practice, game and meet space for water polo and swim teams in order to keep things going.
“I’ve got a ninth grader who’s learning to play water polo. Their championship game is nine days away,” Bob Ploss told district officials. “They get no support from the school district. What does that teach them?”
Alameda High School senior Joseph Johnescu said he’s rearranging his schedule to fit in practices in advance of the ACCAL championship, which the school’s men’s water polo team won last year. Johnescu said the team has missed three practices since the pools closed and that the practice times the team’s coach has been able to secure at other pools have been in the evening, when he is usually doing homework for a host of advanced placement classes.
“We are really having trouble trying to prepare,” Johnescu said.
Alameda Island Aquatics president Don Krause said he understands the pools are old and that they need a lot of work, and that he, too, would have voted to close the pools if he had been in the school board’s shoes. But he said he needs more information from the school district, because right now he’s billing his members for pool space they don’t have, and he has to know whether to keep paying coaches or place them on furlough while the fixes are worked out.
“The problem I had is a communication problem. We didn’t know anything was coming,” said Krause, who said he wants to work with the school district to fix the pools.
The district decided to shut down the pools after learning they aren’t yet in compliance with a state law requiring public pools to have drain covers – a law Alameda County has been particularly aggressive in enforcing. The district’s general counsel, Danielle Houck, said district officials found out on October 12 that county inspectors had determined the pools weren’t in compliance with law, and on that date they got a copy of an earlier letter sent to the city’s recreation and parks department – which maintains the pools – that laid out steep fines the district could face if it continued to operate the pools in violation of the law.
Alameda’s recreation and parks director, Dale Lillard, said the city had worked over the summer to install the drain covers and asked the county to certify the work last month, but school district officials said the county wanted more information before they would do so. Meanwhile, the city and school district also need to replace the aged pools’ filtration systems – which could be a much more expensive job.
Shemwell said he’s hoping discussions between a consultant the district hired to help deal with its pool issues and the county department that oversees the pools will bear fruit within 10 days. A consultant the district hired to determine what fixes the pools will need and how much they’ll cost should have answers to those questions in 30 days, he said.
Meanwhile, the Island’s swim coaches have been scrambling to find places to practice, with swimmers squeezing into lanes at the Harbor Bay Club or getting up early enough for 5 a.m. practices in Hayward. Others have had no luck getting the pool time they need.
“We have an upcoming meet at Chabot College this Saturday and Sunday. My daughter and other swimmers have not had a way to practice for this meet,” Charles Liuson, whose daughters swim on the Alameda Islanders team, said earlier Wednesday. “We’ll just have to do our best.”