A warm water pool in Berkeley is a truly desirable and important amenity to Berkeley residents, and a boon to the greater East Bay. The article in the Daily Planet on Tuesday, April 10, “Voices of the Berkeley Warm Pool,” is a remarkable tribute and reminder about the benefits of a warm water therapeutic pool for everyone in our community. However, the reality is that the existing pool is very old, deteriorating at a rapid clip, and may soon be unusable. And then where will we all be?
So, what is the answer to our need for a usable, self-sustaining warm water therapeutic pool? It is, in fact, in leadership that exists with past and present School Board members and the community that developed the School District’s South of Bancroft master plan adopted by the School District last year.
This Plan specifically calls for a dedicated location for a “new” warm water pool at Berkeley High School on the east side of Milvia Street (formerly the tennis courts), across the street from the old gym. The Plan pointedly states that the “old” pool would not be torn down for many years while badly needed new football stands are built first. Our community, during this time, could then seek funds for a new pool on School District land and facilitate a smooth transition from the “old” to the “new” pool without interrupting the availability of warm water hydrotherapy.
I respectfully contend that those most concerned about this issue are presently being led astray, being used for partisan purposes unrelated to the pool, and are following a course of action that guarantees failure.
The goal of some misguided souls to designate the old gym and warm water pool as a Berkeley historical landmark and preserve them at their present location would significantly delay the School District from following its adopted plans for Berkeley High School and thereby increase costs tremendously. The old gymnasium and warm water pool have outlived their usefulness for a modern High School and badly needed additional classrooms and updated athletic facilities are slated to be built on part of the land now occupied by the old gym and pools. The School District plan recognizes the significance of the Old Gym and is committed to preserve historical pictures and documents of the buildings by a qualified professional in consultation with the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
First of all, why should anyone expect a School District that is strapped for money to spend its precious funds to rehabilitate an antiquated, regional facility, used mainly by adults in Berkeley and the greater East Bay? It just will not happen if the Berkeley School District is forced to change its master plan for improving the south campus of Berkeley High School. They will do nothing to keep the “old” pool going. The pool will die where it stands because the funds are not there and remain empty and unused in very short order with everyone loosing.
The stakes are high and unless everyone unites around a viable course of action and works together we will never have a warm water pool in Berkeley because we will loose the present Berkeley Unified School District help.
Just consider one consequence of following a path of trying to renovate the existing pool, which may cost more than building a new pool. Where will people swim and enjoy the therapeutic benefits of the warm water during the years of work renovating the old pool?
We must all push to support the School District’s South of Bancroft master plan, in its entirety. We must lobby the district to fast track the surplusing of the Milvia Street parking lots, a first step in this process, so a regional pool can be built on this School District property.
We must then advocate a joint planning process between the School District and the city to develop a plan for joint use and management of this property. These joint use agreements between the School District and the City already exist with the other public pools in Berkeley.
And then we must raise funds like crazy, perhaps even going again to the voters of Berkeley and the wider East Bay for construction bonds. It is this approach I believe, that has a chance of success. Any other spells disaster.
The pool and the sorely needed additional classroom space will not be built if the district is prevented from moving forward. Why would the district donate millions of dollars worth of land for a regional facility, land that could be used for other educational purposes, if it cannot proceed with the rest of the building plans 20 years in the making? And why would the School District work with warm water pool advocates to renovate a pool perceived by everyone in the School District to be a grand waste of money on a pool right in the middle of a newly designed school facility.
Again, this is not an either/or situation. There is a win, win solution. But in order to get there we have to immediately start working towards the solutions I have outlined above. As a disabled person, a disability rights activist, a personal friend of the late Fred Lupke who worked tirelessly for a “new” warm water pool, as a former school board member, and a consistent friend of the warm water pool, I say we can’t throw this opportunity away by being diverted by advocates of keeping the old gym and pool.
It is a suicidal mission that will be a painful lesson we will never forget or overcome, and the pool will be lost, maybe forever.
Terry Doran is a former School Board member and current member of the Zoning Adjustments Board.