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Swimmers scramble for space after pool closures

Submitted by on 1, October 18, 2010 – 4:50 am4 Comments

Photo by Jack Boeger

Contributed photo

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.”

4 Comments »

  • Bob Ploss says:

    AHS mens water polo team, 2009 ACCAL Champion, has no practice site to prepare for league tournament due to begin in one (1) week! Pool closure has impacted ENTIRE Alameda community including: AHS & EHS men and women, age group teams, and masters program. AUSD School Board decision made in closed session last Wednesday has made a huge community impact! Alameda voters deserve an explanation.

    Bob Ploss EHS ’76

  • Hey folks,

    Just got this from the school district. Calls in to ARPD and Alameda County Environmental Health, which oversees pools. More to come.

    Update on Closure of AUSD Swimming Pools

    As the community is aware, last week the District closed its high school swimming facilities as a result of safety concerns. Alameda has a long history of strong swimming programs in its schools and the greater community. We value this tradition and understand that the pools are a shared community resource. I want to assure the community that our decision to close the pools was first and foremost out of concern for the safety of swimmers.

    For the past several decades, Alameda Unified and the City have shared responsibility for the operation of the swimming pools. A new law (AB 1020) requires certain upgrades and repairs to public swimming facilities. This law requires all public pools in the State of California to meet certain standards for pool drains. The City staff has been working with the County to bring the pools into compliance with the requirements of AB 1020. Until late last week, the District believed that the City’s contractor had completed necessary safety repairs in compliance with the law. District staff learned last week that the County may not be satisfied with the repairs despite an independent engineer’s certification that the repairs are satisfactory. Additionally, the County has also stated that the pools fail to meet water filtration standards.

    It has been reported that the City and County had an agreement regarding the continued operation of the pools despite the pool’s non-compliance with AB 1020. There is no such agreement. To date, the County has given neither the District nor the City any assurance that continued operation is permitted. The County has told district staff that our pools should be closed until they meet compliance standards. Failure to comply with AB 1020 could result in significant safety hazards, as well as the imposition of hundreds of thousands of dollars in monetary fines against the District.

    We are working with City staff to verify that the repairs have been satisfactorily completed and to get the pools open again as soon as possible. The District has retained a consultant to help determine the most appropriate course of action to meet County compliance standards. While the work of the consultant could take as much as 30 days to complete, we will work diligently with the County to get the pools reopened. Because of the potential safety hazard presented by these compliance issues, the District made the decision to close the pools until the County Health Department agrees that the pools are safe to open and that the District will not incur monetary fines as a result of non-compliance.

    We want to emphasize that this decision was not made lightly and we are fully aware of the disruption to our aquatic programs, but swimmer safety must remain our first priority.

    We are continuing to try and locate alternative locations for student athletic programs. The District will also be hosting a community meeting on Wednesday, October 20, 2010, from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., at the District Office, located at 2200 Central Avenue, in the 3rd Floor Conference Room. The Chief Business Officer and the Director of Maintenance and Facilities will be available to answer questions about the closure and timeline for reopening of the pools.

  • Jill says:

    Have there been accidents at these pools during their 40 years of operation that compliance with the new requirements would have prevented?

  • Jack B. says:

    Jill — no, there have not.

    At this point, we have not seen the report or been told exactly what we violated. There seems to be confusion on the AUSD (and ARPD) end of things. We expect to have these inspection documents later today (wed).

    There are 2 issues at play:

    1. The Virginia Baker Act – Anti Entrapment (the drain covers)

    2. The Filter Systems and turnover volume rate.

    For Issue # 1, apparently the drain work has been done and we are in compliance. This is the issue that could be life threatening, although not in Alameda’s pools because the waterflow is governed by gravity, NOT a pump. There is literally no suction power (easily demonstrated.)

    For Issue # 2, this is a more of a grey area. The filtration laws are set for new pools. The benchmark for being shut down is the turnover volume rate through the filters. This could be why we were shut down, but we don’t know.

    We do know that there has been no significant degradation in the pools for 15+ years. We have been passing inspections, and it’s been noted on the inspections that our filter system needs to be upgraded and that we would look for funding. But in the meantime, we have been allowed to stay open because this issue is not deemed a public health threat.

    Nothing happened overnight to warrant the closures. Why the urgency?

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