On Aug. 23, 17 members of the Warm Pool attended the School Board meeting asking for your support. We were not just representing ourselves. We were representing approximately 400 people a week, in ages ranging from two months old to 88, who exercise, rehabilitate themselves, and gain strength and peace of mind at this valuable facility. Included in this group are the following:
• 21-month-old Alejandro Gonzales, one of 30 other infants in the Parent-Tot classes that meet each week. He loves playing with his parents in the water and especially doing the Hokey Pokey.
• 3-year-old Kamiko Schrader, one of fifty-five disabled children in Dori Maxon’s Special Needs classes. She’s blind with Cerebral Palsy, and the warm water drastically reduces her seizures and relaxes her enough to sleep at night.
• Dr. Andrea Thatch, one of 200 who benefit from the Recreation Department’s Disabled and Senior Swim Program. She suffers from degenerative arthritis. Before coming here, she had to rely on a cane and on mind-clouding medications. Now her pain has decreased 80 percent.
• Iris Gomez, one of a hundred men and women who attend Berkeley City College’s Disabled Swim classes. She has Lupus, Congestive Heart Failure, and Fibromyalgia. The warm water not only soothes her pain, but allows her to survive without a pacemaker. Without the pool, she wouldn’t be able to function. She might not be alive.
I should also mention the 40 men and women who participate in Arthritis Movement classes, Fear of Swimming classes, and Spirit Walking Aqua-Chi classes.
At the Aug. 23 meeting each of us got a turn to address the board. When the last person was finished, there was a surprising silence in the room. None of you asked a question, made a comment, or expressed an opinion, with the exception of your president Terry Dolan. He gave a stirring speech asserting how he’d always been a strong advocate of the Warm Pool, and would continue to do everything in his power to help us. I was about to leap out of my wheelchair and start doing cartwheels ‘til I caught his concluding sentence. “Unfortunately,” he said, “I will no longer be on the board after the election.”
When I rolled out of the meeting later that evening, I’d had my fill of silent stares and passionate oratory. I wanted to hear some straight talk from the board, individually and collectively. I still want to hear it. Why were the rest of you silent? What do you stand for Joaquin Rivera? Nancy Riddle? John Selawsky? Shirley Issel? Superintendent Lawrence?
Are you willing to commit yourself to the Warm Pool not just in words, but on paper?
Are you, in fact, going to give the tennis court property to the city so that a new pool can be built there, or are you planning to sell it instead?
Or will you refuse to do either, and wash your hands of the situation?
Most importantly, are you prepared to assure us that the Warm Pool will be renovated in its present location or that a new one will be built before any demolition occurs?
I believe these questions should be answered as soon as possible, preferably before the upcoming November elections. We’ve already waited too long for a resolution to this issue.
I think part of the problem is that you underestimate how valuable this facility is, how essential it is to its constituents. The Warm Pool is not your average Berkeley pool. I cannot emphasize this enough. It is the only heated public pool in the East Bay. Unlike other pools, when it is closed we users are not merely disappointed, but suffer actual physical pain. Our bodies tighten up. Our muscles spasm. It becomes much harder to sleep. Does that happen to you when you miss a day of swimming? If you took the time to check it out for yourself you’d discover what a unique community it is, the most democratic community in Berkeley. The aged, obese, sick, and disabled who are still often discriminated against in our progressive city, are treated with compassion. The pool is a constant source of emotional support. Empathy. You can talk about your difficulties and people will pay attention, which itself is a therapeutic experience. It’s also a place to gain helpful information. New medications, alternative treatments, and the names of innovative doctors are shared. Each time we slide into the soothing waters we regain a tiny part of ourselves which had been taken away by disease, injury, or the unrelenting process of aging.
I do appreciate the board’s willingness all these years to house the Warm Pool at the Milvia location. I’m grateful for your efforts to maintain it; fixing the broken windows, making sure the electrical doors work smoothly, keeping the locker rooms functional and clean. I also want to thank you for including the Warm Pool Committee in the Site Planning Process. Most of all, I want to express my gratitude to you for offering the tennis court property across the street as a possible new location for the Pool.
There is some confusion, however, regarding this offer which I’d like clarified. For too long, a cloud of ambivalence has hovered over this subject. In 1996 Jack McLaughlin, the BUSD Superintendent, actively encouraged the Warm Pool Committee to participate in meetings with teachers and architects to convert the Old Gym building, into classrooms and athletic facilities. He repeatedly told us that the Warm Pool was definitely included in his plans.
In 2000, when Berkeley voters passed a $ 3.2 million bond to finance the renovation of the pool, we assumed that McLaughlin’s promises would reach fruition. However, studies showed that the pool was seismically unsound. As a result, the BUSD decided to tear down the present building and replace it with new classrooms. That’s when assurances were given about the tennis court land. Lew Jones, the school district’s facility director, made promises to that effect. So did present board member Shirley Issel. And Terry Dolan has reiterated this on a number of recent occasions.
The problem is that neither McLaughlin’s words, nor Ms. Issel’s, nor Mr. Jones, nor Mr. Dolan’s, nor the statements of any of their colleagues were ever made in writing. There are no legal documents.
Kind words and promises only go so far. At some point, we need to see something definitive, something concrete that we can count on.
That time is now.
Your soon-to-be-ex-president, given his speech at the Aug. 23 meeting, is willing to work with you. The City Council is willing to work with you. We in the Warm Pool Committee are willing to work with you. I call on you to make a commitment, to join us in this effort. Anything less is a betrayal of all the voters who passed the $3.2 million bond, as well as the hundreds of us who regard the Warm Pool as our lifeblood.
Daniel Rudman has been a Warm Pool user for 20 years.
Opinions expressed in Daily Planet commentary and letters to the editor are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily Planet or its staff.