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Column: District Did "Pretty Much What it Said It Would Do" with Albany Pools

Do you have an idea for a guest column or a letter to the editor? Email albany@patch.com.

Albany residents:

Lately I’ve been reading on Patch and what Albany residents were promised by Measure E supporters. For your reference, I’ve attached a copy of the main flyer that Measure E supporters produced and distributed.

Given the economic tumult over the last few years, I think we should all be pleased. The district was able to do pretty much what it said it would do. 

I was on the school board when we decided to rebuild Cougar Field and the Albany pool, and I concur with Peggy McQuaid and Ira Sharenow that our school’s sports and PE facilities were never conceived of as profit centers.

While I agreed with William Wong, the school superintendent at the time, that a new pool must primarily serve the needs of the high school, I thought one way the district could say thanks to the community was to provide a small, warm pool for lessons and water exercise.

Given the two pools would have complimentary uses, yet would be able to share a lot of common infrastructure, many of us thought at the time the two-pool proposal (as detailed in the flyer) would give us the most bang for our buck. I still think that.

What bothers me about the current debate is that it overlooks the two most important issues. Swimming is a great life-long exercise, and it’s a great high school sport. But it is also an important safety skill. Here are some statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control:

  • Drowning is the sixth leading cause of unintentional injury death for people of all ages, and the second leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 14 years.
  • Participation in formal swimming lessons can reduce the risk of drowning by 88% among children aged 1 to 4 years.

Just as important, swimming is really fun. My son is now almost 20, and his fondest memories of growing up in Albany center around the pool. He learned to swim there as a toddler, was on the HS swim team and became a lifeguard there by the time the pool closed (that’s him on the back of the flyer). 

So if you are worried about the subsidy necessary for the pool, and if you are out of practice in the water, and if you want to get swim lesson for the kids, I suggest there is a simple solution to all those problems. 

When the new pools open, grab the kids and get you butts down there. The pool will be a success if we make it a success. We have forgotten what a sense of joy and community the pool can provide for this town.

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Click the "Keep me posted" button for an alert when we write about the pool. 

Do you have an idea for a guest column or a letter to the editor? Email albany@patch.com.

Ira Sharenow January 11, 2012 at 05:12 PM
I assume Michael wants to be controversial. Originally I proposed a replacement pool. Then Superintendent William Wong was very receptive. As the idea evolved, I was told that the big selling point to the board was that there would be permanent classrooms. There was also the expectation of a warm therapy pool in order to benefit Albany’s seniors. A board member suggested that the cost of a replacement pool would be in the $5 million - $7 million range. I assumed the board asked for $10 million in order to have a reserve for classrooms. Unfortunately, the first committee was made up primarily of strong swimmers, so the AHS principal’s idea of spending a lot to build industrial arts classrooms never got very far. Also it turned out the original indoor idea was going to cost way more than $10 million. At a board meeting, the AHS girls swim team got up and asked for an outdoor pool. Then the school administration tried to claim the pools could be a profit center. Then the board made even more changes to benefit strong swimmers as the outdoor pool was made to be very deep so that there could be diving. School insiders decided upon the configuration of the pool and classroom complex. There was no attempt to serve the needs of the general public. So the entire process has been problematic.
Ira Sharenow January 11, 2012 at 05:13 PM
The new indoor pool, which is now the secondary pool, not the primary pool, when it opens, will be smaller than the old pool. I also wonder about the depth of the pool and will it serve the needs of those who are not capable swimmers. Additionally, there is almost no deck space. The outdoor pool also has a closed in feeling to it. There are no slides or other features that would appeal to small children. The facility does not have the environment that would lead to families spending the day there. It is for strong swimmers who want to go to the pool; do their laps; and leave. Albany is way too small to have two pools. There is no dedicated automobile parking for the pools and there may not even be enough bicycle parking. I believe that the new structure may take away from basketball court space. And so I agree that a swimming pool should be viewed as another recreational facility such as a gymnasium, but my guess is that the constructed facility is not the type of facility that will most benefit the people of Albany as a whole.
Merry Selk January 11, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I agree that what has emerged, as a result of the pool project, appears to be what was proposed during development of the pool initiative. I am among those looking forward to enjoying the indoor and outdoor pools soon. There was opportunity for neighbors and swimmers to participate in the planning groups that reviewed and developed the pool plans, along with the high school and school administrators who included the much-needed classroom space in the initiative. Pool sizes and costs, as well as 'green' features to lower operating costs were the subject of extensive discussion that is posted on the AUSD website at http://www.ausdk12.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=92446&type=d&termREC_ID=&pREC_ID=179516 Thanks for the clarifications, Michael.
Ira Sharenow January 11, 2012 at 07:42 PM
I believe the first committee typically did not post its agendas prior to its meetings. The last committee did not hold its meetings in a public place, so it is not surprising there was close to zero public involvement in the committee process. The large outdoor pool and the elimination of the warm pool did not become part of the discussion until after the measure passed. The deepening of the outdoor pool was slipped in at a board meeting very late in the process and apparently was never noticed. Even an outsider board member complained that he did not know about those changes and suggested there might have been a violation of law. Clearly the board seemed to have violated the spirit of the opening meetings law. The process is very troubling. We have no idea when the pools are opening and they are a couple of years behind schedule. I do not think that the pools best meet the needs of the Albany community at large, but hopefully the pools will be hugely popular. Does anyone know when the pools are opening? Will they be open in time for the swim team season? By Memorial Day???? I am hoping that the portables have worked out well. What do students, faculty, and administration think of them? Have they helped relieve the overcrowding on the AHS stairwells and elsewhere?
Copper Hat January 11, 2012 at 08:58 PM
A community pool is a great idea. Swimming for fun, as a life skill and as PE are great ideas. Supporting our pool is a great idea. Spending general funds during a budget crunch (about to get worse) is not. This issue is money, not whether or not its a nice idea (which it is).
Joy Kekki January 12, 2012 at 12:33 AM
It would be interesting to know at what rate the C.O.I. was factored into the cost projections. Was anything like this presented to the voters? The pools should be an asset, not for profit, but they are now turning into potential liabilities. Given a choice, I think replacing the old pool with a new and larger indoor (year-round) pool, would have been ideal -- with a schedule designating when it would be used for classes and therapy. Oh well, there goes the horse.
Ira Sharenow January 12, 2012 at 03:06 AM
At the time of the Measure E vote, the idea was to replace the old pool and have a small warm water pool for seniors and others who would benefit from the warm pool. The issue was not going over the $10 million bond capacity. Operating expenses were not an issue. After passage the goal of the secretive pool committee was to build the most impressive pool structure possible and to emphasize competitive swimming, so no more warm water pool and instead a huge and very deep outdoor pool became central to the project. Some of us, including outsider board members, raised financial issues, especially since the economy was declining and there was talk of laying off teachers. However, the board never seems to do any meaningful financial analysis, instead it chooses to produce fantasy numbers. The public has more or less sat out this issue just as it is sitting out the parcel tax subsidy of non-resident students. Measure E passed overwhelmingly in February 2008. The economy collapsed in the fall 2008. The bonds were not sold until spring 2009, so there was quite a window for the public to protest the board’s risky economic decisions. http://albanytoday.org/2008/01/05/campaign-for-pool-rebuilding-bond-measure-moves-into-high-gear/ http://albanytoday.wordpress.com/2008/02/07/albany-voted-yes-on-bond-measure-to-rebuild-pool/ Interesting comments by Preston Jordan http://albanytoday.org/2009/01/04/albany-school-district-holds-meeting-on-pool-project/
Ira Sharenow January 12, 2012 at 03:08 AM
http://albanytoday.org/?s=vote+pool+measure http://www.ausdk12.org/pdf/district/pool/Albany062308.pdf http://www.linkedin.com/pub/stephen-dunkle/12/161/108 Stephen Dunkle helped appoint the initial pool committee and its focus. I believe that the current shape of the pool complex is to a large extent the implementation of his vision. Maybe he should be interviewed. He also works at the El Cerrito pool. http://albanytoday.org/2009/01/04/albany-school-district-holds-meeting-on-pool-project/ This meeting was well attended, but I did not hear people complaining about the cost. People generally strongly believe in and have faith in the school district administration. http://www.ausdk12.org/pdf/district/boe/archives/2008-2009//minutes/01-06-09_Minutes.pdf For those wanting to do research on the issue, I suggest you look at the 2008 minutes, if you can find them online. Otherwise, perhaps Patch could post the minutes.

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