ElMo will get 30-meter

swimming pool for campus aquatics

By Tina Richards
El Modena High School’s failed 25-meter pool will be replaced with a 30-meter facility, following a hand-wringing decision by the Orange Unified Board of Trustees, Feb 12.

The board was presented with options for three different pool lengths, at costs slightly lower than what it was told at its January meeting, but still significantly higher than original estimates. A new 25-meter pool was tagged at $4.2 million, a 30-meter at $5.8 million and a 35-meter at $6.5 million. The 51-meter pool of everyone’s dreams, coming in at nearly $10 million, was off the table.  The cost of all three pools included bathhouses that meet state requirements. While the 25-meter pool could be serviced with the existing mechanical building and equipment, the larger pools would need new ones. 

Bigger may be better
ElMo swimmers and district staff preferred the 35-meter option, as it offered the flexibility to host multiple events simultaneously, could host playoff games and tournaments, could be rented at a higher rate, and attract more students to OUSD.

Aquatic consultant Dennis Berkshire also told the board that while many of the water polo and swim teams that ElMo competes with have 25-meter pools, “They are all older facilities; no one builds 25-meter pools anymore.”

“Our issue is money,” Trustee Kris Erickson attested. “We don’t want to deprive students of anything.  Everyone wants a bigger pool, but it’s the money. How can we get something better for students that accommodates needs, but not blow us out?” She noted that the costs presented included shade structures and bleachers, and wondered aloud if they were needed right away.

Berkshire assured her that those things could be added later, and that each of the options would meet district needs. Even the 25-meter pool would meet CIF minimum requirements. “There are no fatal errors here,” he said. “But this pool is an investment for the next 40 years. We’re trying to decide what’s best for the district today and in the future.”

Bottom-line ballet
Trustee Andrea Yamasaki also had cost concerns. “We have so many things that need fixing,” she said.  “We only have so much money. It’s hard to justify putting it all into one pool.”

Kathy Moffat agreed that, “We have to stretch money as far as it can go. We haven’t even talked about elementary and middle schools, which two-thirds of our students attend. We are not in a position to think extravagantly.”

Further discussion between board members, the consultant and district staff revealed that a 30-meter pool would offer many of the same benefits as the 35-meter. It could host floating goals (the preferred configuration) for water polo; deep water lanes for swim meets; would be larger than those of competing schools; and could generate more rental revenue.

“That’s still a big jump,” Moffat marveled, “from $4.2 to $5.8 million.” 

The higher cost, OUSD Assistant Superintendent of Business Services David Rivera assured the board, could be dealt with. He pointed out that the bid for Fred Kelly Stadium came in $900,000 lower than budgeted. “That savings could be applied here,” he said, adding that there was money in deferred maintenance that could also be applied to the pool.

For a few dollars more
“What savings?” Erickson interjected. “Fred Kelly construction just started. We’re assuming that everything is going to come in on budget. And I’m not comfortable taking deferred maintenace funds to build one pool.”

Superintendent Gunn Marie Hansen, however, was comfortable. “There will be enough in deferred maintenance,” she advised. “We’ve spent $20 million on elementary schools over the last four years.  We build in healthy contingencies. And building a pool is deferred maintenance.”

Rick Ledesma said he was inclined to follow staff’s recommendation and ElMo’s desire for a 35-meter pool. “We want to be a 21st century school district,” he said. “This is a decision for the future."  But, he conceded, “we could go back to a 30-meter."

Brenda Lebsack motioned to go with the 25-meter version; Yamasaki seconded it. The motion did not pass. Alexia Deligianni-Brydges motioned to proceed with the 30-meter pool. The vote was 5-1 in favor.  Moffatt voted “no.” John Ortega, a vocal proponent of the 51-meter option, did not attend the meeting.

March 2019