Warm Water Pool Users, Multi-Pool Advocates Clash

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday October 19, 2007

Berkeley’s warm water pool users clashed at Wednesday’s disability commission meeting with members of Pools for Berkeley over the idea of a multi-pool complex. 

While members of the One Warm Pool Advocacy Group say they believe Berkeley voters will approve a bond for building a free-standing warm pool, Pools for Berkeley and some disability commissioners said it would only pass if the proposal included a multi-use pool, which would attract a wider group of users. 

The proposed warm pool on Milvia Street—planned by Berkeley-based ELS architects with input from the Warm Water Pool Task Force—is a one-story, 12,000-square-foot structure which includes a pool, deck space, lockers and equipment storage rooms.  

The price tag for construction is $10 million and could increase to almost $15 million when land and other design costs are included. 

The city hired ELS to design the relocation of the warm water pool after the Berkeley Unified School District approved the Berkeley High School South of Bancroft Master Plan in January, which proposed demolishing the landmarked Old Gym and its warm pool in order to build classrooms and sports facilities. The plan provided the city with an option to use part of the Milvia Street property to rebuild the pool. 

“Building a warm pool by itself will be difficult,” said Bill Hamilton, a member of Pools for Berkeley, which introduced the idea of a multi-pool complex almost a year ago. 

“We have tried to stay clear of what the One Warm Pool people have been doing, but now it’s at a point where we have to start working together. One way voters would pass a warm pool proposal is if it’s included in a wider constituency.” 

Deputy City Manager Lisa Caronna told the Planet that the City Council had never formally discussed the idea of a multi-pool complex or directed city staff to preview needs, feasibility and sites. 

For East Bay’s disabled community, the idea of a multi-pool complex is a threat to their proposed freestanding pool. 

“We have been working to design the pool for the last 15 years,” said Joann Cook, co-chair of the One Warm Pool Advocacy Group. “Any other plan would delay the process ... People should support a pool for the disabled whether or not there is something in it for them. People voted for the warm pool in 2000. Why would they not vote for it now?” 

Disability commission chair Dmitri Belser replied that the scenario had changed since the last bond measure had passed. 

“People were more willing to vote on bonds then than they are now,” he said. “If we are going for a $15 million parcel tax we have to make it attractive for people to vote on ... We don’t want to put a bond on the ballot and see it fail ... This kind of thinking will lead to a dry warm pool on Milvia.” 

Pool user Gary Marquard said that the new multi-pool idea seemed like another case of bait-and-switch. 

“People think we are weird because we are focused on ultra-special needs, but there’s a reason for that,” he said. 

Hamilton told the board that an indoor lap pool and an outdoor children’s recreational pool would attract all age groups to the facility. 

Urging the city to investigate the multi-pool proposal so that it could be put on the November 2008 ballot, he added that the outdoor pools located at the King and Willard elementary schools and the West Campus were in abysmal condition and could stop functioning altogether.  

All three pools are approximately 60 years old and suffer from pipe leaks, decaying concrete and faulty pumps.  

Berkeley residents approved a $200,000 bond measure to repair the pools at the last election, and the city is currently investigating costs for additional upgrades. 

Hamilton said that multi-pool complexes have been built in Newark and El Cerrito.  

“We need to present the facts to the City Council to look into the viability of a multi-pool facility,” he said. “We sympathize with the warm pool people. Outdoor swimmers do not want to compete with them, but one way of defraying costs is to build an attractive pool for kids with all the bells and whistles.” 

One Warm Pool Advocacy Group co-chair Juanita Kirby said that putting kids and disabled people in the same place would not be feasible. 

“They keep referring to children and waterslides, but what about disabled people bumping into them?” she asked. “The warm pool needs to be freestanding ... It needs to be in a special environment tailored to meet special needs. A lot of people prefer to go to neighborhood pools ... We were never considered a part of the other pools before. No one ever thought of us.” 

Mark Hendrix, another warm pool user, said that it was important to consider how many able-bodied swimmers there are in Berkeley before considering the idea of a multi-use pool. 

“We have statistics of how much the warm water pool gets used every week,” he said. “How many people would want to swim outdoors in winter? A lot of people don’t even want to swim anymore.” 

Hamilton said that an indoor pool would allow children to have lessons in winter. 

“A lot of people go to Oakland and El Cerrito during winter,” he said. “They need to come back to Berkeley to swim.” 

Disability commissioner Ann Silch said that allying with other pool users would attract parents, lap swimmers, aquatic and aerobics instructors to the ballot. 

“The commission strongly believes that a warm pool is a wonderful benefit for the community,” said disability commissioner Ed Gold. “What is in debate is the multiple ways of accomplishing it. We want to look at the best way to make it happen.” 

The board voted to set up a subcommittee to develop language that would ask the City Council to consider the best possible way to build a warm pool. 

Caronna said that the proposed plan would go before the council Nov. 6 along with the other potential bond measures for the 2008 election.