As of last month, a Bonney Lake city pool was just a twinkle in the eyes of some elected officials and hopeful parents.
But after a presentation urging the City Council to take up a plan of action, pool talks may turn from a flight of fancy to hard financial discussions in the coming future.
Emily Terrell, the mother of a Spartan swimmer, led the presentation at the Jan. 23 meeting, telling council members that a pool isn’t just thousands of gallons of water, but also a place for a community to come together and support each other, especially in high school.
But with the Sumner High School pool likely closing next year, Terrell wants the city to start planning their own pool as soon as possible, to lessen the time Bonney Lake and Sumner high school swimmers don’t have access to a home-turf pool for practice and meets.
The Sumner-Bonney Lake School Board announced February 2017 that the pool, which has been described by district staff as “half dead” due to a failing boiler and other issues, will be closed and demolished to make room for the additional parking spaces they’ll need while renovating the school.
The board originally said the pool would close at the end of the 2017-2018 swim season, but promised earlier this year to keep it open a through the 2018-2019 season, barring any mechanical complications, District Communications Manager Elle Warmuth said.
“Without costing more in construction, the school board asked if it’s possible to keep the pool open as long as possible. Project architect BLRB worked through the construction phasing plan and they believe it is possible, with the current construction timeline, to start the construction on the east side of the campus first, allowing for one more swim season before the building needs to be demolished,” she said. “Our desire is to maintain our swim teams in district until such time that it becomes impossible.”
Parents like Terrell are worried about the future of the aquatics program once the school pool closes, not only for athletes but also the special education students that use the pool for physical therapy.
Terrell also lamented the loss of an area for the public to swim in.
The Sumner pool was closed to the public in 2011 for financial reasons, leaving the Gordon Family YMCA pool facilities the only option for Plateau families. However, Terrell said YMCA membership can be too expensive for those with tight budgets.
The YMCA is also not equipped with a dive tank, starting blocks or timers, so while swimmers can take advantage of an agreement between the district and the YMCA to use the pool for free in the early morning and afternoon to swim laps, essential sports gear is missing, meaning Panthers and Spartans will most likely have to host their practices, and meets, at other school pools.
But exactly where is still in question.
“The district has reached out and is aware of other local pools that would be available at the time the district pool closes,” Warmuth said. “When the time and need to relocate the swim teams is determined, the district will review all options and will relocate the teams to pools that best serve the needs of the high schools and students. No decision has been made at this time, however.”
The school board did decide last March to commit $6.6 million to Bonney Lake for the construction of the pool, which is expected to be a portion of the Midtown Park plan the city has in store for its portion of the WSU forest.
“We understand that is not the full cost, nor close to the full cost,” Terrell said. “But it is the best opportunity we have to have an aquatics program that supports the kids in our community.”
Terrell suggested the city run a metropolitan parks district measure on a future ballot in order to raise more funds for the pool.
Bonney Lake ran a similar measure in 2013, but voters turned it down.
“I know that was painful. As a city planner, I certainly understand that,” she said, mentioning her work as a principal for Sound Municipal Consultants, who helps cities plan parks, transportation and housing developments. “But we believe the circumstances have changed, and we would ask the council consider looking at that issue.”
Terrell suggested the council see if the district could cover not just Bonney Lake, but the Tehaleh, Dieringer, and Sumner areas as well.
As evidence that there would be community support for such a measure, Terrell pointed to the petition she helped organize to try and save the Sumner pool when news of it closing was first announced — within just a few months, more than 1,000 signatures were gathered, the majority from people in the area.
“We are a group that is parents, students, and Valley Aquatic Swim Team and a whole huge group of community members who would like to see us still have an aquatics program,” Terrell said. “The aquatics program touches many lives, not just our swimmers and divers.”
While Terrell offered the council her advice and experience as a city planner, another speaker offered his passion for the aquatics program — senior Spartan diver Rafael Rodriguez.
“It seems like it was just yesterday that it was the first time I walked out to that pool. I was just a clueless little freshman looking for an activity to do,” he said, adding that he’ll have gone to state three times over his high school swim career, not to mention he’s also signed onto a scholarship opportunity with the University of Arizona. “It all started at the Sumner pool. That’s where my dreams began. That’s where I put in all the hard work and built all my relationships and when results started to show.
“To some people on the team, the pool is the only safe place they had, and the only place where they could forget about everything and just do what they loved,” Rafael added in a later interview. “It isn’t just a loss of the pool, it’s the loss of opportunities and a loss of a home.”