A new task force may recommend the Sumner High School pool to stay on campus after reviewing the entire $75 million high school renovation project. Photo by Kevin Hanson

A new task force may recommend the Sumner High School pool to stay on campus after reviewing the entire $75 million high school renovation project. Photo by Kevin Hanson

Task force to take on fate of Sumner pool

A new task force — which is still accepting applications from the community — may not only decide the future of the aquatic center, but the overall Sumner High School renovation project.

Editor’s note: In the article, “Sumner pool closure may leave swim teams high and dry,” published Feb. 13, The Courier-Herald published outdated information about the future of the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District’s pool. This article contains updated information about the pool and the Sumner High School renovation project.

At first, it seemed that the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District’s plan to close the Sumner High School’s pool was everything but a done deal.

But as of Feb. 1, the community members who appeared to fight in vain to keep the pool on campus may yet get their wish.

According to District Communications Director Elle Warmuth, the district announced at the beginning of the month that it is forming a new task force, made up of community members and headed by Hainline Construction, to not only review whether or not to keep a pool, but the entirety of the Sumner High School renovation project.

“It’s going to be about a six month process, but a lot is hinging on the recommendations from that task force,” Warmuth said in a Feb. 15 phone interview.

The task force, which will consist of 20 volunteers, will be formed after the application deadline on Feb. 25. It’s expected to meet four times between March and May at the district’s central office in Sumner.

You can apply to be on the task force online at www.sumnersd.org/Page/4695.

BRIEF POOL HISTORY

Back in February 2016, voters approved a $145.6 million bond for several major renovations projects around the district, including expanding Sumner High to make room for its increasing number of students.

Originally, that expansion meant paving over the school’s pool, likely for parking space, as Sumner’s municipal code requires adequate parking when buildings are remodeled. While the district was looking for other options at the time — like building, leasing, or sharing parking space in local neighborhoods — it was also factoring in the small campus size (1,800-plus students on 25 acres) and the pool’s age and condition.

The pool was opened in 1969 and hasn’t been modernized since. In 2003, the district’s Board of Directors adopted a long-range facilities plan and expected to close the pool by the end of the 2007-2008 school year.

However, as the pool was still operational by that deadline, the board decided to keep it open until it couldn’t work anymore, although it was closed to the public in 2011.

It appeared the pool’s time came in Feb. 2017, when then-District Financial Director Debbie Campell said the pool was “half dead” due to myriad issues, including the pool’s boiler.

“Honestly, the boiler can blow up tomorrow, and we’re done,” Athletics Director Tim Thompson said at a February 2017 board meeting with parents concerned about the pool closure. “The mechanics of that building — they’re not the kind of thing we can maintain much longer.”

Several community members asked why the district didn’t ask for pool funds in the bond that passed a year earlier. The answer at the time was simple: “We did not say, ‘give us $12 – $15 million to build a pool someplace else,’ because Sumner School District does not want to be in the municipal pool business,” Campbell said in a February 2017 interview.

At the time, the district told the community to expect the pool to be closed at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. Later, the district said it would close after the 2018-2019 season, and as recently as December 2018, extended the closing date to at least after the girls’ swim season in fall 2019.

Warmuth said “it’s possible, but too early to know for sure” whether the pool will still be open for the 2018-2019 swim seasons.

“It depends on recommendations made by the Sumner High School Project Review Task Force and considered by the school board,” she said. “The task force work is anticipated to be completed by the end of May.”

While the task force will discuss the current and future status of the pool, it will not be making recommendations as to what upgrades or modernization will be necessary, Warmuth continued.

“There are a number of steps of pool planning, which are beyond the scope of the task force, including an in-depth planning study to reach conclusions on the uses of the pool, construction costs, maintenance costs, and a financial plan,” she wrote in an email. “It is likely that the task force will make a recommendation to the board for a future direction of a pool for the District.”

Additionally, it’s not yet clear where Bonney Lake and Sumner’s swim teams will continue to practice if the pool is removed from campus, though district officials continue to make it clear they’re still committed to keeping the teams together, no matter the outcome.

WHY IS THIS TASK FORCE BEING FORMED?

Up until recently, the district had a clear vision for what the Sumner High School renovation would look like, and how much it would cost — roughly $74.5 million, of which $55 million was slated for construction.

However, after securing construction permits in mid-2018 and going out to bid, the district realized expenses were higher than expected.

Warmuth said the sole bid that came in said construction would cost $69 million plus tax, more than $14 million more than the district budgeted.

On December 12, 2018, the board directed Superintendent Laurie Dent to find a construction firm that would aid the district in evaluating its renovation options under its $74.5 million budget.

The district picked Hainline on Feb. 13, and shortly afterward announced it was also putting together the community task force.

The unexpected costs of renovation appear to have another effect — the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District is no longer offering the city of Bonney Lake about $6.6 million for the development of a pool in what’s to be Midtown Park, in the old WSU forest along state Route 410.

The School Board voted March 2017 to allow district administration to negotiate with Bonney Lake regarding a pool and to contribute up to $6 million, if the terms of the agreement were satisfactory.

“While the School Board authorized the District to enter into negotiations on an agreement with the City of Bonney Lake to help fund an aquatics facility, negotiations did not commence,” Warmuth said. “The district is using its $6 million toward the Sumner High School expansion and modernization construction project. Due to a historically-aggressive construction market with high demand and costs, additional funds are needed for the Sumner High School project.”

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