Guest Editorial: BUSD Must Act to Save Warm Pool By DONA SPRING

Friday June 10, 2005

EDITOR’S NOTE: Councilmember Dona Spring has contributed the guest editorial below, which she also sent as a letter to the Berkeley School Board. Keeping a warm water pool available for Berkeley citizens was a major project of the late Fred Lupke, a valued participant in reviving the Berkeley Daily Planet two years ago, so we are happy to have the opportunity to concur with the concerns expressed by Councilmember Spring. We would also like to remind Berkeley citizens that all of us, students and non-students, are just an accident away from disability. When I experienced a painful and lingering knee injury a few years ago, swimming at the Warm Water Pool was the way I finally recovered, after conventional medical therapy hadn’t worked very well. We need to preserve and maintain this valuable city resource for everyone, not allow it to vanish because of the school district’s careless maintenance. 

–Becky O’Malley 


The Berkeley School Board took up the proposed plan for the Berkeley High School South Campus athletic complex at its May 11 meeting. The preferred plan proposes moving the warm water pool from its current location next to the Old Gymnasium building across the street to the former tennis courts. School Board Director John Selawsky announced he wanted the community to know where he was coming from on the proposed warm water pool. He said that from his perspective, the school district could not contribute any funding to make up the budget gap. Board member Terry Doran also stated the school district did not have the funds to help with the warm pool. Their comments referenced the city consultant's report that indicated the cost of the pool would increase from $3.2 million for a reconstruction at the current site to between $6 million and $7 million to build a new pool across the street.  

Previously, the City Manager had sent a letter to the school district stating: in 2000 "the City Council became aware of the deteriorated condition of the Pool Building on the Berkeley High School (BHS) South Campus. Council initiated a bond measure to rehabilitate the building at a time when it was still financially feasible. The City earnestly underwent steps to pursue this rehabilitation with the School District. It was determined that a joint venture using a joint architect would be beneficial. However, before design work could proceed, the School District unilaterally decided to shelve the whole plan while a Master Plan for the entire site was studied. 

“During the years waiting for the planning process, the pool building has continued to seriously deteriorate. Confronted with the School decision to move the pool to another site, the City underwent a study to determine the options and costs—to rebuild the pool in place or rebuild it across the street." 

The letter went on to say that subject to council approval, the city would be willing to contribute an additional $1 million to the $3.2 million bond to fund the budget gap. 

The Berkeley Unified School District is hereby formally noticed that under the Americans with Disabilities Act that they must provide a reasonable accommodations for physical education and athletic opportunities to students with disabilities. They need to ask themselves if the following accommodations will be found to be reasonable: 

1. To withhold maintenance funds for over a decade from the Warm Water Pool facility, which provides for disabled students, so that it deteriorates beyond repair; 

2. To spend tens of millions of dollars reconstructing pools and athletic facilities for able-bodied students, but not committing any of the bond fund money to provide reasonable physical education/recreation and athletic facilities to disabled students; 

3. To spend millions of dollars of bond money intended for reconstruction of the old gymnasium and pool buildings to demolish the primary BUSD accommodation provided to the great majority of disabled students and children, thereby depriving them of any accommodation for physical education/recreation and athletic opportunities. 

What is very clear under the Americans with Disabilities Act is that the School District is obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to its disabled students, and it would not be reasonable to spend public funds to destroy the facility that provides this current accommodation and not replace it. The School District is fortunate that the City of Berkeley (thanks to the voters) has come up with over half the funds to replace the facility, otherwise the School District would be on the hook for the full amount. 

In the mid-eighties, parents of disabled children had to find an attorney from a legal advocacy group for people with disabilities to sue BUSD for refusing to make the old library accessible. The case was settled in favor of the disabled students, and this was before passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In the late nineties, the City of Berkeley lost an expensive ADA lawsuit for not making its old jail accessible when it put in over $100,000 worth of remodeling. The city unsuccessfully argued that it intended to do a new project soon and this was just an interim remodel. Hopefully, disabled rights organizations will not now have to divert resources into getting the BUSD to do the right thing. Disability rights advocacy is stretched to the limit right now fighting the draconian moves of the Bush and Schwarzenegger administrations. 

The city and the disability community need some firm financial commitments from the School District by the end of June before the value of the bond money is further diminished through inflation and increased construction costs. 

–Councilmember Dona Spring