Students, residents unite to save Juanita High School pool from LWSD bond measure

A Seattle Synchro team swims in the Juanita High School pool. Seattle Synchro is one of several teams that uses the year-round pool. - File photo
A Seattle Synchro team swims in the Juanita High School pool. Seattle Synchro is one of several teams that uses the year-round pool.
— image credit: File photo

More than 2,000 students, families and Kirkland residents disagree with the Lake Washington School District’s recommended bond option that seeks to add new schools and upgrade others, but would also tear down the Juanita High School swimming pool if passed by voters next February.

On Aug. 5, the Lake Washington School Board is expected to vote on one of five bond options to go before voters. But some feel the district has already decided after a citizen’s advisory committee recommended on June 24 the board adopt a $755 million measure - pool excluded.

“We have a building that’s nearing the end of its useful life,” said district spokeswoman Kathryn Reith of the swimming facility. “If we were to continue with that building, the expectation is there would be higher and higher costs of keeping the building open.”

Reith likens the pool to a car with 200,000 miles that needs constant repair before it finally breaks and stops performing reliably and safely.

Just last month the district spent $20,000 on repairing the ceiling tile grid system after ceiling tiles fell into the pool, she said.

The district is responsible for major repairs, while WAVE Aquatics incurs operating costs and general maintenance costs, a contract that was agreed upon in 2009 to stave off another potential pool shutdown.

Reith said the district brought in more than $123,000 in revenues, with more than $251,000 in expenses during the 2008-09 school year, the last time the district operated the pool.

One of the five bond options includes a $906 million bond, $15 million of which would go towards replacing the Juanita High School swimming facility.

All other options do not include the 40-year-old pool, which was built in the early 1970s.

Austin Lashley, a captain of the Lake Washington High School swim team, said his biggest concern is the swim program could also be cut without a pool that serves multiple school districts.

“Swim teams not only build skills in swimming, but provide a team experience,” said Lashley, who will be a senior in September. “It’s a good environment for kids to be in.”

Reith said if the bond passes, construction wouldn’t be until at least 2017 on modernizing Juanita High School and taking down the swimming facility, but if that time comes the district intends to find another place for swim teams to practice.

“We’ve had to do that short-term when other teams have lost access,” Reith said. “We’ve had to be creative in finding places for teams to swim and we’ll do that in the future.”

But Lashley said the problem is there’s not anywhere else to practice. He said teams have had to practice in outdoor pools in the winter before, due to the high demand for the low number of pools that do exist.

District officials say because the pool greatly serves the community they are looking to the cities of Kirkland, Redmond and Sammamish and WAVE Aquatics for a partnership in an alternative plan.

WAVE Aquatics, the Lake Washington Masters and Seattle Synchro are just a few groups that use the pool.

Reith said there are no plans yet but she noted there have been meetings with city officials to gauge their interest.

Kirkland resident Christiane Grove said she would be more likely to support the bond - which will fund three new elementary schools, modernize and expand Juanita High School, build a Lake Washington High School addition and include a STEM high school on the west side, among other improvements - if she knew of the alternative plans the district said they will explore.

“I’m willing to support [the district], I just need to know what they’re doing,” Grove said, whose daughter has been competitively swimming for five years and plans to start at Lake Washington High School in September. “… I think they’re being vague about all this because they want to get the bond passed and then they’ll come out and say they haven’t made any progress [with an alternative plan].”

Grove is one of 2,000-plus who joined the “SaveJuanitaPool” Facebook page created by high school swim captains in the Lake Washington School District.

She describes the dilemma as a “catch-22” situation because she and her husband have always voted to support district bonds and levies but she also feels strongly there needs to be an emphasis in school sports because of the high childhood obesity rate.

The SaveJuanitaPool Facebook group continues to urge the community to write emails to Superintendent Traci Pierce about their opposition to closing the only all-year public pool in Kirkland and to attend the 7 p.m., Aug. 5 board meeting at the L.E. Scarr Resource Center, located at 16250 NE 74th St. in Redmond.

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