South Valley pool: To fix, or not to fix?

The pool at South Valley Middle School is scheduled to be filled this summer.

Recent talk over the fate of an eastside pool has young swimmers holding their breath.

There’s no question students, teachers, city officials and school board trustees aren’t keen on shutting down the aging pool at South Valley Middle School – but when it comes to the viability of shelling out a possible $170,000 for repairs, the answer is cloudy – like the water generated by the pool’s failing filtering system.

“If we can’t afford to keep it open once we fix it, obviously it defeats the purpose,” said Mayor Al Pinheiro during an Oct. 25 meeting between the City of Gilroy and the Gilroy Unified School District Board of Trustees. “I just want be sure that we’re not just forgetting some part of our community. I look at the eastside right now, and the more and more we keep taking away.”

Located on South Valley’s campus at 385 IOOF Ave., the pool built in 1995 is the only aquatic facility between Gilroy’s three junior highs and is enjoyed by both the education and community sectors. South Valley offers a bi-weekly adaptive P.E. swim class for special education students, a P.E. swim class unit, and is used by the wrestling and cross country teams.

The pool is also used as a city-run summer aquatics program that includes lifeguard training, swim lessons and the Gilroy Gators – a competitive, nonprofit swim team headed by the Parks and Recreation Department. City Recreation Director Maria de Leon said Gilroy receives a federal grant to provide free summer swim lessons to children who live in the surrounding area. The city also covers the $6,737 cost of summer lifeguards and swim equipment.

During a board meeting Thursday evening at GUSD’s district offices, school board trustees voted to refill the pool and give it a new pump motor (the pool has burned through four already, due to bad wiring) at a cost of $1,375. The pool will be re-filled by the end of this week, according GUSD Facilities Director Jim Bombacci.

Thursday’s decision was spurned by the fact the pool cannot stay drained for more than several weeks, due to pressure from the surrounding water table.

“The recommended time is that it not be left without water for more than a month or so,” explained GUSD Maintenance Manager Carlos Pina. “As soon as our water table starts to rise, it could lift that pool right out.”

That’s the short-term solution.

Pending an upcoming joint city/school meeting scheduled for January, decisions about long-term repairs are temporarily shelved.

In addition to replacing the pool’s filtering system at a cost of $44,200, code requirements mandate boilers be replaced by 2013; the cost for which ranges between $65,000 to $85,000. Trustees also refrained Thursday from giving the go-ahead to fix a leak in the pool’s underground copper pipes, which comes with a $31,500 price tag. This means the pool will continue to lose between 6,000 to 9,000 gallons of water each month; mitigating $1,300 monthly in water loss costs for GUSD.

When asked Friday if the city would be disposed to financially contributing to the renovations for the 16-year-old pool, City Administrator Tom Haglund replied “I think that in order to answer that question, we’ll have to know what the ultimate costs would be … we’re kind of at an assessment stage right now.”

While Thursday’s agenda item was designated for the immediate query over whether to refill the pool, the possibility of seeing the facility shut down permanently was a driving force in dialogue during public comment.

The audience consisted of a sizable turnout of SV students, parents and staff, including principal Anisha Munshi.

“Ninety percent of these boys didn’t know how to swim,” said SV wrestling coach Jason Villarreal, motioning to a large group of junior high students who stood behind him.

Villarreal said the pool is a huge asset to students living on the eastside of Gilroy.

“It’s hard for these boys to get across town to other pools,” he said.

A poised SV 7th-grader named Alejandro Diaz also offered his two cents.

After an afternoon of practicing sports, the opportunity of taking a dip is a privilege students relish, he said.

“Everytime we tell somebody about our school, we’re like, ‘we have a pool!’ And people say ‘that’s really cool,'” he said. “It would be really beneficial for the whole community and us people at the school to have a pool.”

“I think I’m looking at a future board member,” quipped GUSD Board President Rhoda Bress.

GUSD trustee Dom Payne was also quick to highlight his stance on the subject.

“I know the costs are tough, but I really want to see it stay in use,” he said. “Geographically, it serves the eastside of the community.”

This concern was underlined during the Oct. 25 joint city/school meeting by several attendees, including SV P.E. teacher Jared Gambell who said allowing students to get their feet wet at an early age imparts a number of benefits.

“A lot of kids around Gilroy don’t know how to swim,” he said. “We do a lot of teaching in that pool, preparing them for water polo and water safety. It gets them ready for the next level, which is high school.”

In light of the brand-new, multi-million dollar Christopher High School and aquatics facility on Day Road, there are people in the community “who feel the eastside of town somehow keeps getting less focus,” added Mayor Al Pinheiro. “We need to think twice about taking services away from schools in certain areas.”

While she wishes GUSD could pay for the pool’s repairs with maintenance funds, or through the voter-approved Measure P (the $150 million school facilities bond Gilroy voters passed in November 2008), GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores said the cost of repairs must legally come out of the district’s general education funds.

Still, “I’m committed to fully studying this issue alongside our city to see if we can come to some kind of resolution,” she said.

GUSD will revisit this topic during an upcoming joint school/city meeting, scheduled for sometime in January.




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