Emma Hood pools could reopen next week
Alameda school district leaders said Wednesday that one of the two swim centers they abruptly shuttered on October 15 could reopen by the middle of next week. One district official said he believes the Emma Hood Swim Center could reopen by next Wednesday.
The news came after a three-hour meeting with county environmental health officials that included Alameda County Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker.
“It sounds like it’s just a paperwork thing,” school board trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said of the work that needs to be done to get Emma Hood reopened.
The district’s chief business officer, Robert Shemwell, said additional fixes may be needed at Encinal Swim Center and that those pools will reopen at two to three weeks at the earliest.
“That’s a little bit more extensive of a drain job,” Shemwell, who credited the district’s consultant with helping to speed the process, said.
He said a committee will be set up to ensure long-term fixes to the pools’ other physical plant issues – which include problems with the pools’ filtration systems – will get made. Spencer said she thinks a nonprofit could be set up to run the pools, similar to the organizations that manage other youth sports in Alameda.
The school district closed both pools after learning they didn’t comply with recently passed state and federal laws that govern pool drain safety. Swimmers were furious about the closures and the district’s failure to keep them in the loop and plan for the problems they would cause. But district officials said the safety issues posed by the pools, and the massive fines they could face if county officials discovered they weren’t complying with the laws, led to the swift closures.
They said they didn’t learn of the compliance issues until October 12, when city officials shared a fax from the county saying the drain work they had done didn’t meet county standards.
The school district owns the pools but the city maintains them, and they have been the county’s point of contact for maintenance issues like the drain covers that were to be installed. The county environmental health department informed city staffers in December 2008 that new drain covers would need to be installed on the pools, and they wrote again on July 1 to say pools that didn’t comply should be shut down.
A county inspector told the city to close down the Encinal Swim Center after a routine inspection on July 13, inspection records collected by a local swimmer show, but the pools were apparently never closed. The pools at Emma Hood were inspected three months earlier, so a formal closure order was not issued for those, records showed.
Dozens of teen and adult swimmers told the board Tuesday that swimming is a critical part of the youths’ education and that it provides an important path to college and job opportunities. And they explained how the pools’ closure – which has pushed them all over the East Bay for practices – has made it more difficult for them to keep up on homework and sleep.
Artie Cortez said he’ll use the life lessons he learned swimming to prepare for becoming a paramedic. “As much as textbooks prepared me for this job, the lessons I learned came from this city’s aquatic programs. If you close these pools, these are lessons that they’ll never have a chance to learn,” said Cortez, waving to the youths in the audience.
Some swimmers also questioned the district’s decision to bring on an out-of-town consultant to work on the pool issues, saying they’re concerned the consultant could slow efforts to reopen the pools. And Spencer said she wants local people who’ve offered to take a look at the pools for free to have a crack at the job.
“This isn’t rocket science. It’s plumbing,” swimmer and civil engineer Rod Smith said.
But district officials said they’ve told their consultant, Aquatic Design Group, that getting the pools reopened is their first priority. And they said they want to make sure long-term fixes needed to maintain the 1950s-era pools, which have endured a hodgepodge of fixes over the years, also get made.
“I don’t want this board to be in a position where the (immediate) problem is fixed, but then in two months there’s another problem,” Vital said.
School board trustee Tracy Jensen experienced frustration with the lack of communication from the city about the compliance issues.
“I had 10 minutes to make a decision that impacted thousands of people in Alameda,” she said at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, which was attended by an overflow crowd of swimmers.
Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant acknowledged the communication problem between the district and city and said city officials are trying to fix it, and that they are also trying to get a handle on what’s contained in the county’s inspection reports. Spencer said a city staffer signed off on the county’s July 13 order that Encinal Swim Center be closed.
Shemwell said Wednesday that the county will now include the school district in its communication loop.
Both Mayor Beverly Johnson and Superintendent Kirsten Vital said Tuesday they’re trying to get the pools reopened.
“We’re fully committed to working with you on a path to getting the pools reopened as soon as possible,” Johnson said.