SDUHSD pool committee urges district to build high school pools

The San Dieguito Union School District (SDUHSD) board has agreed to do a deeper dive into exploring the possibility of building a district pool or pools to support its high school aquatics programs.

A parent-led pool steering committee provided a report to the school board on April 6 in front of a full audience of swimmers and water polo players, families and coaches, at least one handling a yellow polo ball and one whose hair was still wet from practice. The committee requested that the district look into the possibilities of partnerships and grants to fund anywhere from one to four district pools and to explore amending the district’s master plan to include future pool facilities.

The pool committee co-chaired by Lucile Lynch, Steven Prince and John Miller have gotten the farthest any pool effort has gone in the district, coming up with a comprehensive design template and construction costs.

Prince, a principal with the architectural firm Ruhnau, Ruhnau and Clarke whose portfolio includes many school projects, took the lead in developing a conceptual plan for all four high school sites. According to Lynch, the committee was instructed not to include the district-owned La Costa Valley site in their report — while playing fields have been developed on the 22-acre site in Carlsbad, the district remains firm in reserving the space for a potential middle school.

Prince created design plans for a 25-meter by 30-meter pool and a small support building with lockers and shower facilities. The cost of building one pool would be $5.7 million plus soft costs, around $6.8 million a site. Annual maintenance fees would be $380,867 a pool.

SDUHSD Superintendent Eric Dill pointed out that the cost estimates don’t include potential site work as he noted the location tapped at San Dieguito is on a slope.

“We do understand that pools are expensive but it’s one of the few sports set forth in the education code and we are not providing aquatic instruction to our students,” Lynch said, noting aquatic PE would not only meet education standards but it is also teaching a skill that could save a life.

Currently all four high school aquatics programs are without a home pool and through donations, parents pay $100,000 across the district to rent pool facilities.

On the agenda just that night was approval for two pool leases — $8,000 to the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito for the Torrey Pines swim team, paid for by the foundation and $5,096 to Cathedral Catholic for the Canyon Crest Academy swim team.

“We are the only district that has parents paying for pool rental fees,” Lynch said, noting that when all of the donated funds go toward renting facilities, there’s nothing left over for equipment.

“By not having pools at our school sites, I feel like there’s a huge barrier of entry for kids who want to do aquatic sports,” said La Costa Canyon (LCC) parent Susan Siljander, who said that it might be prohibitive for some kids when they see that practice is 10 miles away, is not held right after school – not to mention a $500 fee keeps potential swimmers or polo players from ever dipping their toes into the sport.

Several parents remarked that it is tough for students to balance athletic and academic lives as the team schedules revolve around available pool time. Some teams’ practices don’t begin until as late as 7 p.m. or 8 p.m., meaning late nights and inadequate sleep.

Canyon Crest Academy swimmers and water polo teams get the early shift and practice at 5:15 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. at Cathedral Catholic.

Daniel Sullivan, who helped start a water polo team as a student at San Dieguito in 2009 and now serves as an assistant coach, said finding pools is a definite challenge for teams. Their program started at the Jewish Community Center pool in La Jolla, a 30-minute drive for 6:30-8:30 p.m. practices. The next season the only open time was 8 p.m. at the UCSD pool, again a long drive for athletes and families. They then split time between the UCSD and the Monroe Street pool in Carlsbad before finding the Alga Norte pool in Carlsbad only three weeks before the next season started. It came with a cost of $15,000 and that cost fell to the parents.

“It’s an uncomfortable position to ask for donations to support rentals of facilities,” said LCC polo parent liaison Kristi Simmons.

LCC polo practices are held at Encinitas YMCA Magdalena Ecke and each player is requested to pay $400 for facilities and $100 for transportation costs.

While they have never been told so directly, the impression many parents believe is that if they don’t pay, the program will be eliminated. As many students get PE credit for playing sports, Simmons said it is essentially “pay to play,” which is a violation of the state constitution.

Shannon Delaney, LCC swim team liaison, said she swam for Torrey Pines High as a teenager and this is not a new problem.

“It’s time our community and kids had pools,” said Delaney, who once coached a Torrey Pines High School swim team at the Torrey Pines Lodge hotel pool. Currently the LCC team has a 7-9 p.m. slot at the YMCA. “I think it’s very clear that without the endless support of parents and coaches that our district would not have an aquatics program.”

Funding as always is the biggest piece of the puzzle. Lynch said there are opportunities for grants and for the district to partner with another organization — the Boys & Girls Club of San Dieguito has said it would be interested.

Lynch also said there is the possibility the district could receive Prop 51 Public School Facilities Bond Initiative (which passed in November 2016) reimbursements for Prop AA capital outlays for new construction at Pacific Trails and modernization at Earl Warren. The district could receive just under $18 million in reimbursement money.

Additionally, Lynch said as the district is operating at least $5 million under budget on Prop AA projects, there could be a surplus to tap for pool uses.

Dill said when there are savings, it is rolled into the next project or used to accelerate other projects. At the end there could be a surplus but, currently, every dollar is committed and additionally they are seeing the cost of construction creeping up.

Dill said they will also have to do their due diligence to ensure a pool facility fits into the Prop AA voter-approved bond language and that it could be a legitimate use of a surplus.

One parent in the audience said that the board seemed to be resistant but Prince dismissed that accusation.

“The district has been open arms with us, they’ve been very cooperative,” said Prince. “Everybody knows my passion toward this thing, I want to make this happen too but I want to do it in the right way, in a way that’s respectful.”

Parents at the meeting pushed for the pool committee to be formalized but Dill noted it wasn’t formerly agendized so they could not take that step.

SDUHSD Board President Amy Herman affirmed that the board is committed to exploring the ideas of a pool and spending more time looking at the logistics.

“The pool rental fees I do see as an equity issue and that’s something I would like to address with next year’s budget if we can,” Herman said, to the applause of many aquatics parents in the audience. “I think that’s an important issue…. we can at least help in the meantime until we can physically have pools.”

Dill agreed that the board’s goal would be to relieve the pressure on aquatics parents and cover 100 percent of facilities costs as they are working on the budget for the 2017-18 school year.

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