Twelfth hour plea too late for SVMS pool

Protesters plead with the City Council to save the pool at South Valley Middle School.

The decision to close the South Valley Middle School Pool was finalized by the Gilroy Unified School District months ago, but that didn’t stop a group of students and teachers from making one final plea for clemency at the district’s regular board meeting Thursday night.

GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores says it’s great that middle school students, parents and teachers seized the moment to make their heartfelt pleas – but it was too little too late.

“They came in at the 12th, not the 11th hour,” Flores reasoned.

SVMS Principal Anisha Munshi was also taken aback by the impassioned mob that showed up seemingly out of left field to protest something that was finalized months ago.

“Dr. Flores sent me an email a few months ago about the decision to close the pool” she said, standing up to address the crowd of roughly 60 people. “It was discussed at multiple staff meetings.”

Munshi appeared baffled at the sudden interest in a subject she thought had been thoroughly discussed and agendized at School Board, City Council meetings and joint meetings between the two governing bodies during the last two years.

“The Dispatch also ran an article on it,” she added, referring to the most recent story in April 2013, which reported that GUSD was planning to fill the pool in.

A procession of disgruntled students, parents and teachers forced a discussion about the pool – the demolition contract was on Thursday’s consent calendar – before the board voted unanimously to continue with the scheduled demolition of the pool this summer. GUSD negotiated a $60,420 deal with EF&S Concrete of Gilroy to demolish and fill in the pool, which has sat empty since last summer. Money for that project will be sourced from the district’s general fund.

The issue of the South Valley Middle School Pool has enflamed east side hearts – removing the pool would leave an area described by former Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro as “underserved” with no water feature – since the saga began in early 2012. Months of to-and-fro between City Council and GUSD over who would pay for what to rejuvenate the dilapidated facility built in the 1950s reached its terminus in November 2012, when the total estimated price tag climbed to $621,850.

Still, as far back as last summer, GUSD had decided it could only chip in up to $86,000 – the rough cost of getting rid of the pool.

“We couldn’t do it,” board trustee Mark Good asserted in April when the Dispatch broke news of the pool’s fate. “We were standing there with our pockets turned out.”

News that City Council and GUSD shut the door on that conversation three months ago didn’t stop parents and students from voicing their objections last week. Many were completely unaware that a decision had already been made.

“The kids at South Valley really care about having a pool,” said sixth-grader Catherine Webber, as she handed a petition containing 96 signatures to the School Board. “Please find a way to save our pool.”

Jennifer Swifteagle, parent of an SVMS student, denounced what she saw as a lack of interest in SVMS’s athletic programs. She also claimed that board members regularly attend athletic events at Christopher High School far more often.

“Not once have I seen one of you at any of our school events,” boomed Swifteagle in the direction of the dais. “Do you know what our students are capable of? You have no clue.”

Flores says it’s possible some SVMS students hadn’t heard from their parents about the pool’s definite closure. She was, however, baffled as to why P.E. Teacher Jami Reynolds took to the speaker’s lectern to talk about a lack of information regarding the pool.

“I sent Anisha Munshi an email back in March informing her the pool was going to be closed,” Flores explained. “She then sent an email to all staff members.”

Munshi confirmed this, reiterating that she sent emails to all staff members and mailed hard copies home to parents.

“It’s sad for all of us,” Munshi added. “It’s a hard decision.”

Maintaining a stance of complete denial, Reynolds asserted that she and her young charges had no idea the pool was closed for good.

“We were planning on swimming about three weeks ago,” Reynolds explained. “We had to investigate why the pool wasn’t ready.”

Reynolds spoke about how SVMS students began collecting, on Thursday, their loose change to kick off a possible community donation drive.

“We want the opportunity to pay for it,” Reynolds said, asking the board for one month to rally the troops.

The unanimous vote from GUSD, however, finally put the issue to bed. The option of not filling the pool in and waiting for a rosier economic outlook is also nixed from the future.

“Every month of delay has cost us between $8,000 and $9,000 in water,” said Board of Ed. President Jaime Rosso, referring to a water pipe underneath the pool that continues to spew water into the ground.

School Board trustee Tom Bundros was much more succinct in framing the issue.

“It’s a matter of trading things off, teacher’s salaries and books vs. a swimming pool,” Bundros implored. “I’m sorry, that’s the reality.”