Pools Task Force Selects West Campus for Warm Pool Site; Plan Heads to School Board

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday April 14, 2009 - 05:50:00 PM

The Berkeley Board of Education will vote Wednesday on whether the city should proceed with an environmental review of plans to expand and improve the city’s pools. 

City officials and the Berkeley Board of Education joined forces last year to create a citywide pools draft master plan which would help them get an idea about which public swimming pools and aquatic programs need to be upgraded or replaced. 

A task force was formed in September and last month, after more than a dozen meetings and three public workshops, the draft master plan was finalized. The plan contains the task force’s preferred option as well as two alternatives. 

After reviewing at least 18 different pool sites owned by the city, the school district and a private entity—East Bay Iceland—the task force recommended keeping pools at Willard and King Middle schools and West Campus. 

West Campus would have a 2,790-square-foot indoor warm water pool and a 3,150-square-foot outdoor recreation pool. The King pool would be expanded to 25 yards by 25 meters.  

The proposed warm pool is similar in size to the current warm water pool at the Berkeley High School Old Gym, which is slated for demolition in 2010 to make room for the school’s educational and athletic needs. 

Often described as a lifeline for the disabled East Bay community, the warm water pool has hundreds of supporters who have lobbied the city and the school district for years to save what they consider a valuable community resource. 

Both the West Campus and the Willard recreational pools will also have water features in which children can play. 

All three pools can be easily accommodated within their existing boundaries, according to a report by the district’s Facilities Director Lew Jones. The fencing at the north end of West Campus would be straightened out to add about 10 feet to the current pool.  

The price tag for the project is nearly $30 million, with $20.3 million going toward West Campus. The King and Willard pools will cost $4.8 and $4 million respectively. 

Two alternative options were also approved by the task force, both of which include a smaller warm pool and no recreational pool at West Campus. Constructions costs for the alternatives would fall between $16 and $18 million. 

Jones told the Daily Planet that the board will decide at the meeting whether it would be appropriate for city officials to go ahead and hire a California Environmental Quality Act analyst who would examine the preferred option and the two alternatives. 

“There will be no decision about whether there is a good plan or a bad plan,” Jones said. “We want to study the most complicated plan. The environmental review will help to decide which plan will happen.” 

Jones said the task force had started with a large number of sites for the warm pool, including the Berkeley Iceland and the old Hillside school property, but had eventually narrowed it down to four or five. 

“When we made the first cut, a whole group of sites fell off the table pretty quickly,” he said. “We didn’t want to shut people out, so we looked at all the possibilities.” 

The pools task force will present their report to the school board at 9 p.m., Jones said, and follow up with an even more detailed presentation to the Berkeley City Council April 21. 

“I expect there will be quite a bit of dialogue about the preferred option at the council level,” he said. 

The council is scheduled to vote on whether to proceed with the environmental analysis on May 5. 

Depending on the outcome, the city will hire a consultant for the job. 

Jones said that it could take up to a year to decide the exact scale and size of the warm water pool.  

He said the City Council would have to vote on the plan in February or March of next year in order for it make it onto the June 2010 ballot. 

Jones said the school district was presuming that under a new plan, all the pools would be run by the city. Currently the district pays utility bills for the warm water pool and covers part of the cost for the West Campus pool. The city covers the rest of the costs for the West Campus pool and all of the expenses King and Willard pools. 

“If the school district needs to use the pool, we will make an arrangement with the city about the number of days and hours,” Jones said. “It just makes sense to have one clean budget instead of multiple budgets.” 

In his report to the board, Jones remarks that the current economic crisis will make it a challenge for the city to “absorb any new operational costs,” explaining that all the plans, and especially the alternatives, were developed with capital costs and operating costs in mind. City officials have said from the beginning that they need a plan which will be cost-neutral to the city’s general fund. Jones’ report says that this goal has been met in each plan “to varying degrees, depending upon the hours of use.”