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Warm Water Pool Fate Still Bleak, Says Councilmember By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Tuesday January 17, 2006

The fate of Berkeley’s warm water pool—a treasured resource to many of Berkeley’s disabled and elderly residents—looks bleak, City Councilmember Dona Spring said Thursday. 

The pool, located on the grounds of Berkeley High School, can’t be replaced with the $3.25 million bond measure city voters approved five years ago, and the outlook for additional money looks grim. 

Located in the aging Old Gym at Berkeley High School, the pool is the home to a wide range of programs, including a Summit Alta Bates physical rehabilitation program for head trauma patients and physical therapy classes for people with arthritis and other degenerative diseases. 

“It’s meant everything to me,” said Frances Breckenridge, a 71-year-old Oakland native who moved to Berkeley four years ago to be closer to the pool. “I wouldn’t be able to walk without it.” 

Breckenridge, who suffers from a degenerative spinal disease and congestive heart failure, said the presence of others like her at the pool is an incentive to greater activity. 

She visits the pool on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and said she’d go more often if she could afford it. 

“The fee is only $2, but that’s all that I can afford,” Breckenridge said. 

With the rise of construction costs since the bond issue was passed, the raising of additional funds becomes more difficult. 

“The school district is prepared to dedicate space for the pool, but there is no financial participation presumed,” said Berkeley Unified School District facilities manager Lew Jones. 

Demolition of the existing structure is planned as the second phase of new development at the high school, with the first phase being the construction of new bleachers on the eastern side of the property with locker and weight rooms. 

The second phase calls for demolition of the Old Gym and its replacement with classrooms and other facilities. 

Preparation of an Initial Statement, the preliminary environmental document required under California, should be completed in the next few days. 

Jones said the district had looked at the idea of heating the pool at the West Campus site, but found too many problems with the plan—including the fact that users said the water wasn’t deep enough for their needs.  

The existing pool is the only facility of its type in the East Bay, Spring said, predicting that demolition would result in negative consequences for the school district. 

“I don’t believe it will play well with the voters when the district comes to them for more money after using tax dollars to destroy a valuable resource,” she said. “After all, everyone in this community is going to get old, and they’ll need to us it.” 

As it now stands, the gap between available funds and actual construction costs is at least $2 million, and the school district rebuffed a call by the city to chip in a million dollars of their own. 

While Mayor Bates and the city manager’s office have suggested going back to the voters to fund the difference, Spring said the approach was problematic in light of recent elections in which virtually all proposed funding measures were defeated. 

“We also don’t have a Fred Lupke to organize the campaign this time,” she added. 

Lupke, a disabled activist who was instrumental in organizing support for the initial bond measure, died when a car struck in wheelchair in September 2003. 

Spring said other options for preserving the existing pool should be explored, noting that one possibility might be to enclose it under a geodesic dome. 

Meanwhile, the existing building continues to deteriorate. Recent storms revealed leaks in the roof, which will cost the city $100,000 to repair. 

“It’s just a shame to have to keep on wasting money on a building the school district says it’s going to demolish,” Spring said. 

Meanwhile, BUSD isn’t letting its own students use the pool and has signed a contract with the Berkeley YMCA to accommodate special needs students. The decision was based on the education code, said district spokesperson Mark Coplan. 

“It’s the same with our offices,” he said, referring to the Old City Hall building on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Because the building is considered seismically unsafe, the structure is off-limits to students but can be used by adults. 

Coplan said the decision to bar the use of the pool came because the structure is also semismically unsafe and because of the general condition of the aging structure.›