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District officials host pool meet

Submitted by on 1, October 21, 2010 – 4:50 am8 Comments

Photo by Jack Boeger

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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.”

8 Comments »

  • Jack B. says:

    Thanks for the story, Michele.

    I just wanted to note that I counted at least 150 people in attendance, including candidates Doug deHaan, Frank Matarrese, Rob Bonta, and Jean Sweeney… who all stuck around for the duration. Amazingly, only one school board member — Trish Spencer — showed up and Superintendent Vital did not.

    Every candidate I spoke to noted that it was obvious somebody really dropped the ball and the pools should be reopened as soon as possible. As my brother (used to be a nationally ranked swimmer) noted to me… “For every day of practice missed, it takes two days of practice to get it back.” This is a travesty!

  • David Howard says:

    “…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. ”

    Has nobody else caught this…? Why is District staff leaking out to parents, the media, details of a closed-session meeting? There was a closed-session meeting posted for last Thursday, regarding “anticipating litigation,” but I’m aware of no report of any decision about litigation coming out of that meeting, let alone any decision about the pools being made.

    Was there a decision about the pools made at that closed-session meeting? If so, why is notice of that decision being leaked through District staff, instead of being formally reported as an action of the Board of Trustees in closed session, in accordance with the Brown Act?

  • Trish Herrera Spencer says:

    I’ve been trying to figure out how to move forward with this issue. What about leasing the high school pools to a non-profit that’s created by Alamedans, similarly to what’s being considered for the Mif Albright? The District’s pools are used by many Alamedans of all ages. Alameda has similar non-profits that manage the Lincoln and Franklin pools. They too have older pools and dedicate their efforts to keeping Alamedans swimming.

  • Les Lum says:

    Question I have is if the work was done over the summer, as was claimed by the school district, why was that work not coordinated with the County health department to ensure that the work was done in compliance with the law. And if the work was done, why has is not pass the necessary people or departments to sign off on the job. Doesn’t appear that there were any transparency to the whole process; from the contractor doing the job, to the agencies involved with the oversight of the work, to the closure notification to those affected by the closure of the pools. One would think that if there any problems along the way, there would have been some knowledge that would have been passed on thru the proper channels and could have been resolved during the process.

  • marshall dortch says:

    The ASPA which is the organization that parents the Alameda Ala-gators swim team is a Non-profit organization and has been for at least 10 years. I believe Bill Paden would be more than happy to do what he can to get these pools back up and running. My thanks to Kim/Don Krause, Jack Boeger and Bob Ploss for keeping the foot to the accelerator on these issues as well as Michelle for the Blog

  • Lisa Ploss says:

    I remain concerned that only 1 school board member attended this meeting to hear concerns and understand the scope of the impacts. “District hosted meeting” where the school board members and superintendent did not attend? Perhaps they (the rest of the school board and superintendent) all had emergencies. If not, then I am not feeling very optimistic when a meeting is called and decision makers do not attend.

  • Trish Herrera Spencer says:

    The pools will be discussed at tonight’s (Tuesday, 10/26) Board meeting, 6:30 p.m. City Hall, two agenda items: Consent Item E-6 to ratify the Aquatic Design Group Proposal for Consulting Services to “provide a needs assessment study” not to exceed $10,000 and Public Item F-3 Report on Condition of Swimming Pools. A public member can request that E-6 be pulled from Consent and discussed publically (I plan to pull the item). The Consulting Proposal (E-6) is on the district’s website at http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/boemtg/boe_102610_e6e9.pdf. The Update (F-3) documentation is at http://www.alameda.k12.ca.us/images/stories/pdfs/boemtg/boe_102610_f3.pdf

  • Jack Boeger says:

    Hi Trish,

    Thanks for taking the time to stick around last wednesday and answer our questions. We will be showing up with more questions tonight, such as:

    * Why does the board want to hire a consulting company from Southern California?

    * Why won’t the county health dept. certify the drain work that has already been done?

    http://www.aquaticsfan.com/alameda/blog/safe-or-not

    * Why is the filter issue coming up now when there is a long history of passing inspections with the current filter conditions?

    http://www.aquaticsfan.com/alameda/blog/examining-maintenance-histories-alamedas-swim-centers

    These are just a few of the questions we will be asking you tonight.

    Thanks again, – Jack

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