District, parents meet over Sumner pool closing concerns

With the Sumner High School pool expected to close in the next year, the district held a community meeting last week to address the concerns of students, parents and community members who are worried about the district’s two swim teams.

Many parents addressed their questions and concerns about the Sumner pool closing to Athletic Director Tim Thomsen at a public meeting last Thursday. Photo by Ray Still.

With the Sumner High School pool expected to close in the next year, the district held a community meeting last week to address the concerns of students, parents and community members who are worried about the district’s two swim teams.

The message the district wanted to deliver was clear.

“We are going to keep all of our swim teams,” District Athletic Director Tim Thomsen said Feb. 23, adding that the district has never considered ending the swim program.

But the meeting seemed to do little to mollify the public, and instead, many community members appeared to leave the meeting even more concerned that the swim program will weaken, or even stop, after the pool closes.

According to Thomsen and Chief Financial Officer Debbie Campbell, closing the pool has been a district plan for years, only to finally happen now that Sumner High School is going through a major renovation.

There are many reasons the pool has to close, they said.

First, in order for the school to be remodeled, more space is needed for parking in order for the school to stay compliant with the city of Sumner’s code.

Thomsen pointed out that Sumner High School serves 1,800 students on a 25 acre campus, which “may be the smallest 4A high school campus in the state,” he said in an earlier interview.

To make room for parking, he continued, some things — like the pool — have to go.

The pool is also extremely old and running on its last legs, Thomsen said.

“Honestly, the boiler can blow up tomorrow, and we’re done,” he said at the meeting. “The mechanics of that building — they’re not the kind of thing we can maintain much longer.”

Campbell estimated it would cost the district $15 to $20 million to build a new pool, money the district did not ask voters for when it put a $164 million bond issue on the ballot in 2016.

Furthermore, she said the district does not want to keep a pool at Sumner High School.

“If we had the money to build a pool that the school district owned and ran in the future, it would not be at Sumner High School,” she said at the meeting. “It would be on the hill, somewhere around/with/ included/part of Bonney Lake High School’s campus or that area.”

Other reasons Campbell and Thomsen gave were that the swim teams use the pool for practice only 11 percent of the time and that it’s financially irresponsible to operate a pool with a YMCA pool just down the street.

Campbell said final design work for the high school remodel is planned to be completed around January 2018, with the project going out to bid that spring.

SHORT-TERM PLANS TO CONTINUE SWIM PROGRAM

Thomsen and Campbell were able to share some details with the public about the district’s plan to keep the Spartan and Panther swim teams in operation.

Thomsen said that the district and the YMCA have come to an agreement over swim times at their pool – six lanes from 5 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 3:45 p.m., and three lanes from 3:45 p.m. to 4:15 – free of charge.

That’s potentially more time than swimmers get now (practices run from 2:45 to 5 p.m.) but parents noted the YMCA doesn’t have starting blocks or a dive tank, essential materials for swimmers and divers to practice with for meets.

To that effect, Thomsen said he has contacted eight different pools in neighboring school districts and communities about using their pools, which come better equipped for competitive swimming.

However, he was unable to give a definitive answer as to whether these pools would be able to host Sumner School District swimmers.

“The problem with being 17 months out is that they can’t make a commitment, other than to say they’re willing to help us out, until they get a little bit closer,” to the pool closing deadline, Thomsen said, saying the district should have a more specific plan by this fall.

As for transportation, the district will do “whatever it takes” to get swimmers to and from practices and meets, Thomsen said.

A FUTURE BONNEY LAKE POOL?

As for a long-term solution for the district’s swim program, Thomsen and Campbell announced that Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson has renewed his commitment to building a municipal pool in his city, and the school board has given the district permission to talk to Bonney Lake about what the district can do financially to help speed up the process of building that pool.

“We are getting ready to formalize and finalize a very large financial commitment from Sumner School District to spearhead the building of a new pool at Midtown Park,” Campbell said, adding that the district plans to donate some of the $164 million bond money to the city.

Campbell wasn’t specific as to how much money the district would give to Bonney Lake.

Johnson confirmed in an email interview that an ad hoc committee will being meeting in March to put together a plan for a pool at Midtown Park.

“The property is zoned for public facilities and the city owns it. We have no renderings since we have yet to meet as an ad hoc committee to discuss the WSU master plan,” he wrote. “As for a timeline, the master plan discussions will take at least 6-9 months or so, at which point we should have a better idea of what the plan looks like, costs and timelines.”

Johnson added that if the city has the funds to construct the pool, he is willing to slot pool construction as one of the first projects the city tackles at the park.

“Currently, we have no funds for a pool. Anything from the city would need to come from a bond measure of some kind,” he wrote. “It is possible a ballot measure could be ready for Feb. 2018 or April 2018, if the council approves the master plan and wants to move forward with a bond measure.”

STUDENT, PARENT RESISTANCE

Many of the students and parents at last week’s meeting were opposed to the district closing the Sumner High School pool.

Several expressed concern that swimmers will leave the team if they have to be bussed to and from a busy pool outside city limits, because it would cut into their academic and personal lives.

Some expressed doubts that a Bonney Lake pool would become a reality, despite reassurances from Campbell that she is “as confident as this pool being built as I am anything else that we do with public money.”

Emily Terrell, the mother of a Spartan freshman swimmer and one of the leaders of the group resisting the pool closure, expressed disappointment and skepticism of both the district’s short term and long term plans for the swim teams during last week’s meeting.

“The district says they’ve spoken with eight other pools this month to try to find space for our aquatics program. They claim they can’t make real plans because no one knows what they’ll be doing in 17 months when we need the pool for the new swim season. That seems unlikely to me,” she wrote in an email interview, addressing Sumner’s plan to send swimmers to other pools for practices and meets. “The real issue is probably the simple fact that these venues are already full, all except for the least popular or least feasible times. Even if we find a pool that lets our kids practice during a viable time, our kids will end up being bussed, possibly long distances in commuter traffic. We’ll certainly lose swimmers, either due to inconvenience, lack of sleep or plummeting grade point averages.”

Instead of sending swimmers out, Terrell said Sumner Bonney Lake Aquatics, who has been partnering with the district in keeping the pool operational for the last several years, has proposed providing temporary pool space out of existing vacant warehouse space.

On top of being a Spartan parent, Terrell is also the principal for Sound Municipal Consultants, which helps cities plan parks, transportation and housing developments, according to her Linkedin account. Additionally, she works as a land use specialist and is a hearing examiner.

Based on this experience, Terrell said at the public meeting that she believes it will take years for a pool to be built.

“I know how long even a fast tracked planning process takes… For the initial planning component, we can expect to take 18-24 months with consultant selection, design, public process and approval,” she wrote, adding that the funding process – which includes seeking grants and levy preparation – and construction could add four more years to the process. “At best, with the stars aligned, our kids are looking at a gap of at least five years before a new, permanent aquatics facility is available to them. The likelihood is that even if the project is successful, it won’t be available to any kid currently attending middle school or high school. It’s possible their youngest siblings might get a chance to use the new pool.”

But it’s also possible that Bonney Lake will be unable to fund a pool, she wrote, pointing to the metropolitan parks district proposal voters voted down in 2009.

That was during the recession, and the economy has changed, she added, and as the Bonney Lake’s 2015 Comprehensive Plan points out, a city survey showed that an indoor swimming pool was the second-most popular item ranked in the survey, and captured 50 percent of the No. 1 ranking votes in the “water features” category of the survey.

That being said, “given that an indoor swimming pool will be constructed as part of the new Sumner YMCA and the high maintenance cost of swimming pools, the city has no capital plans to develop a standalone indoor or outdoor swimming pool,” chapter six, page 22 reads.

“The most deeply concerning aspect of the district’s long term plan is its high risk of failure,” Terrell wrote. “The district has stated there is no Plan B. Well, there is a Plan B. It’s simply failure.

Terrell has created a petition to save the Sumner pool on thepetitionsite.com, and more than 830 people have signed since last Monday.

There is also a Facebook page, Sumner’s School Planners, for parents and students to follow pool updates.

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