District may hoist Juanita Pool out of budget mess; athletics could sink

The $5 million cut in state funding for the Lake Washington School District is hitting the Lake Washington School District pretty hard. For the District-run Juanita Pool,

The $5 million cut in state funding for the Lake Washington School District is hitting the Lake Washington School District pretty hard. For the District-run Juanita Pool, there might be reason for hope. But for all other sports teams, the tough times might just be getting started.

Since the announcement that Juanita Pool could potentially shut down to close the budget gap, a large group of parents and community members have had their voices heard in support of the pool. E-mails and phone calls to the District, along with a Facebook page called Save the Juanita Pool, which has accumulated 1,384 members, has put pressure on the District to find an alternative to a shutdown.

So the District is looking to rid itself of Juanita Pool in order to save it.

Three entities were invited to bid for a management contract, including WAVE Aquatics, Northwest Centers and Safe and Sound Swimming.

The District received proposals from two of the organizations by the May 21 deadline to take over the day-to-day operations of the pool. The names of the two organizations have not been released but WAVE Aquatics has confirmed that it submitted a proposal.

“This is good news because we potentially have organizations that are interested in managing the pool,” said District Director of Communications Kathryn Reith. “We will be looking at their proposals and should have a decision in the next two weeks.”

Whatever organization wins the management contract would lease and run the pool.

“WAVE is heavily invested in that pool and it’s the best pool around here,” said Russell Bennett, WAVE Aquatics Board president. “If the pool were to close, then our swimming program would be under severe pressure. We’re very committed to keeping the pool open because we don’t want our teams to be disrupted.”

He also said one of the conditions of submitting a proposal was that time must be set aside for the Lake Washington and Juanita swim teams that currently use the pool, as well as certain physical education programs.

Juanita Pool was built in 1971 and after revenues are accounted for the pool costs the District about $150,000 to run year-round.

“The school district is losing $150,000 a year and that’s knocked a hole in the budget with cuts coming down from Olympia,” Bennett said, noting that it will be up to the pool lessor to close the $150,000 gap for the District and allow the community to keep its pool.

The pool is also in need of maintenance and upgrades. How the agreement between the Lake Washington School District and the management organization is written will have an impact on who pays for the large maintenance issues.

“Whoever takes it over will have to maximize their revenue to keep it open,” said Reith.

The pool needs to replace the drains to remain compliant with federal safety standards. The estimated improvements would cost around $10,000. Other improvements have been estimated to be as much as $1.5 million.

The idea of an outside organization taking over the management of a community pool is nothing new. With so many community pools shutting down for lack of government support, many are turning to private or non-profit organizations to save the community assets.

In 2003 Mercer Island’s Mary Wayte Pool, a community pool much like Juanita Pool, was taken over by Northwest Center. Instead of closing, the pool has been managed by the non-profit organization for six years. But the City of Mercer Island recently agreed to invest $200,000 into the upkeep of Mary Wayte Pool over the next two years.

As for sports, District athletes may end up getting hit with a lot more fees in order to participate. The District is currently deciding whether to raise the athletic fees for all sports. Reith confirmed that the athletic fees for high school sports could be raised as much as 366 percent – to $275 from $75 – at the high school level. That is down from the original proposal of $600 for a full-cost recovery.

Junior high fees could be raised from $35 to $105. The fees would be increased for all junior and high schools in the Lake Washington School District.

The issue is still being discussed and exceptions may be made for such things as multiple-sport athletes. The individual booster clubs and the PTSA are working to try and raise money to subsidize some students’ fees that cannot afford the increase.

But some parents in the community are still not happy.

“Double the fees if it is necessary, but don’t make high school sports something only wealthy families can afford,” Juanita High School parent Laurie Clawson, told School Board members in a letter. “Keep sports affordable for all our students.”