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City, school district considering pool and field agreement

Submitted by on 1, November 15, 2010 – 12:02 amNo Comment

Photo by Jack Boeger.

City and school district staffers are in the early stages of drafting an agreement to lease the Alameda Unified School District’s two swim centers and athletic fields to the city, the district’s chief business officer said Saturday.

“This is a very beginning step. It’s a baby step, as far as I’m concerned,” Robert Shemwell, the district’s chief business officer, told the Board of Education.

The board directed district staff to continue talks with the city. Proposed lease details could be available in early 2011, though the district’s general counsel, Danielle Houck, said the city could take over maintenance and scheduling duties for the facilities and offer top priority for use of the pools and fields to the district.

The efforts to negotiate a long-term lease come on the heels of district officials’ October 15 decision to shutter the Emma Hood and Encinal swim centers after they learned the centers weren’t in compliance with state and federal laws mandating that pool drains be covered. The district believed city staffers were maintaining the pools, which the district owns.

The original agreement between the city and school district called on the city to be responsible for custodial and water quality testing while the district was responsible for major repairs and capital improvements, Alameda Recreation and Park Department director Dale Lillard said Monday.

The district and the city have a long history of informal partnerships, Shemwell said. This would be a much more formal agreement.

“Those agreements have been anything from napkin agreements to handshake agreements to a wink and a nod,” he said.

The agreement could also cover Kofman Auditorium, City Councilwoman Lena Tam – who said she was attending the meeting to learn more about the district’s school closure and consolidation plans – told the board on Saturday.

In addition to covering maintenance costs, a key point to be discussed in the negotiations will be who will pay for what could be millions of dollars in upgrades the aged pools are expected to need, school board trustees said. Board Vice President Mike McMahon said he’s concerned the district would need to issue bonds to upgrade the pools if it maintains ownership of them, though Shemwell said he believes the city is better positioned to pay for major upgrades. District officials are waiting on a consultant’s report that will tel them what upgrades need to be made – and how much they could cost.

Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer said she’s concerned the city won’t do a good enough job managing the pools, and she wanted the board to consider looking at other entities. Several swimmers who attended Tuesday’s board meeting questioned the city’s management of the pools, and Hererra Spencer said she’s getting e-mails from swimmers complaining that the pools aren’t being maintained even as the city is saying they are.

“I think that there’s a problem between what the city is representing and what the consumers experience every day. I would like more assurance from the city on how they’re going to be a better partner with us,” said Hererra Spencer, who said she didn’t think the pools should have closed in the first place.

Board president Ron Mooney said he’d be willing to consider looking at other entities to manage the pools, though he questioned whether there’s anyone else out there who would pay for the major fixes the pools could need. Separately, the district has entered into a lease arrangement with the Bay Oaks soccer club for one of its fields, and Shemwell said the club provides between $40,000 and $50,000 a year in upkeep for that field – more than he said the district would be able to do.

Separately, city staffers have been working on a plan to upgrade Alameda and Encinal high schools’ football fields.

Shemwell also offered an update on efforts to reopen the Encinal Swim Center. He said county health officials approved “in concept” the district’s plan for making the pools comply with the state and federal laws that shut them down, and he’s hopeful a final approval will come early this week. If it does, Shemwell said the work needed to make the pools comply with the laws should take three to four days.

Emma Hood Swim Center was reopened on November 2.

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