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Berkeley swimmers make a splash

Matthew Artz
Wednesday September 18, 2002

City Council voted Tuesday to keep West Campus Pool open this winter and to investigate ways to keep Willard Pool open as well. 

Egged on by a about 100 Berkeley swimmers, council unanimously reversed its May decision to close both pools Nov. 15 to Apr. 15.  

“I’m very happy,” said Sydney Velin, a water aerobics class member and a leader in the swimmer’s fight to keep the pools open this winter. 

The closure was an idea to save the city approximately $80,000 to help offset its budget deficit. Now swimmers will help pay part of the cost and the city will search for other programs to cut. 

West Campus Pool, at Curtis and Addison streets, will remain open year-round. The pool is home to the 120-member Berkeley Bears youth swim team and the 50-member free senior water aerobics class. Both would have been severely impacted by a pool closure. 

To lower the city’s costs at West Campus Pool the Bears agreed to an annual rent increase from $12,000 to $22,000. The aerobics class, which was canceled last month due to a lack of funding will be restored permanently. Class members and city officials will meet to discuss how the students will pay for the class. 

The fate of Willard Pool at Telegraph Avenue and Derby Street will be decided at an Oct. 15 City Council meeting. City staff argued that poor winter attendance at Willard Pool made keeping it open too expensive.  

This year Willard Pool averaged 26 users on a typical day in March, and 177 in July. To keep the pool heated and operating during the winter months costs the city $27 a swimmer, while in July it cost only $4. 

Still, council asked the staff take a month to consider ideas to increase attendance and funding for the pool before shutting it down. 

If Willard closes this winter, the Berkeley High Water Pool Team will have to find a new home, and residents who lap swim will have to go to one of Berkeley’s four other pools. A shower program for the homeless will continue at Willard this winter even if it closes. 

Saving the pools does not come without a price. The Department of Parks Recreation and Waterfront, ordered to trim $100,000 from its budget, must now look to other programs for cuts. Many of the programs that were spared involve after school and summer youth programs, said Lisa Caronna, the department director. The pool closures would have saved the parks department approximately $80,000. Closing only Willard Pool will save the city $57,000, Caronna said.