Swimmers scramble for space after pool closures
The Alameda High School women’s water polo team was cruising toward the end of their season with a 10-5 record and, coach Leslie Cortez thinks, a real shot at acing their league championship meet at the end of October. But the school district’s sudden and unexpected closure of the Emma Hood and Encinal swim centers has dampened the team’s spirit and forced Cortez to scramble to find practice and game space to finish the team’s final two weeks.
“It’s devastating,” said Cortez, who said the Emma Hood pool is a refuge for team members to practice, study and eat. “These kids spend seven if not 12 months a year at this pool. This is a second home for them.”
Now, Cortez is calling all over the East Bay to try to find somewhere for them to practice for the big meet. The team scored one day of practice at the Hayward Plunge pool, and Cortez has calls in to Coast Guard Island and Laney College in Oakland. The Piedmont Swim Club has opened their pool to host a game they’re scheduled to play Thursday.
“I know some of them feel it’s like being homeless,” Cortez said.
School district officials aren’t saying much about the closures right now. The district issued a terse statement shortly after 10 p.m. Friday saying the pools were closed for “inspection and evaluation of necessary repairs” and that the city and school district “are actively exploring alternative locations to continue our community’s aquatic programs.” The district’s director of maintenance, operations and facilities, Robbie Lyng, said a consultant was looking at the pools to see what repairs they need.
But swimmers are saying the closure is due to a bureaucratic miscommunication between the school district, county health inspectors and Alameda’s recreation and parks department. They’re saying the county and city parks department, which operates the pools, had an agreement that allowed the pools to remain open while they addressed the need for new filtration systems and drain covers mandated by a new state law – an agreement they believe the district, which has had two different people in charge of facilities this past year, may not have been aware of.
Swimmers and the parks department are working to put that agreement back in place and to get the pools reopened, one swim coach who wrote families about a canceled practice today said in an e-mail.
In an e-mail to swimmers and water polo players impacted by the closures, another swim coach said district staff who greeted her and other swimmers at the Emma Hood pool at 5:20 a.m. Friday said the school board voted Thursday night to shut down the pools. One school board member contacted by The Island on Sunday said the board didn’t do anything in closed session that was reportable to the public, and the board did not discuss the matter openly on Thursday night.
An ARPD employee forwarded a reporter to the school district on Friday, and officials with the Alameda County Environmental Health Department didn’t return a reporter’s call Friday.
Alameda County environmental health inspectors shuttered public pools all summer following passage of a state law that requires them to have drain covers, and the law also requires each pool to have its own filtration system, swimmers said. They said the two pools at Emma Hood and three pools at Encinal – all of which are 40 years old – each share a filtration system.
Swimmers fear the cost of repairs will be too high for either the district or the city to pay, and that the pools may never reopen, some said.
Cortez’s water polo players high from a sudden death win Tuesday over Bishop O’Dowd and a close loss Thursday to undefeated Pinole Valley descended into a tear-filled meeting in her office Friday, after the girls were allowed to remove their things from the swim center’s locker room.
“They know they actually have a legitimate chance of being a contender,” Cortez said of the upcoming championships. “And they feel like their opportunity is being taken away.”