Juanita High swimming pool faces shut-down

state's multi-billion dollar deficit. Staring down at least $5 million in cuts forecast since last December, Lake Washington School District officials unveiled budget plans that may close the Juanita High Swimming Pool.

Not even Juanita High’s state champion swimmers are immune to the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit.

Lake Washington School District recently revealed Juanita High School’s swimming pool is on a budget-cutting shortlist as officials brace themselves for a projected $5 million cut in state funding. With the recent closing of St. Edward State Park public pool in Kenmore and Bothell’s Northshore Pool slated for eventual demolition, the cost-cutting measure could spell the end of the high school’s swimming and diving programs.

Deputy Superintendent Janene Fogard said the pool and a number of other cost saving measures were being considered now to give the community time to discuss what funding-priorities are highest – and where private or alternate sources of funding could perhaps be found.

“This is part of a larger process,” she said. “We’re asking our parents in the district to grapple with priorities.”

Built along with the rest of the school in 1971, the pool costs the school district about $150,000 to run year-round after pool revenues are accounted for. The school district is assembling a list that identifies cuts around the district on uses that “focuses on our core mission, teaching kids in the classroom,” said school district communications director Kathryn Reith. The other cuts will be identified in April or May after the legislature adopts the state budget.

“We’re looking at some fairly significant cuts,” Fogard said. “Yeah, It’s not good.”

Juanita principal Gary Moad said he learned of the pool-shutdown possibility two weeks ago when Fogard personally delivered the bad news.

“This is a gut-wrenching decision to even have to consider” closing the pool, Moad said.

The news came as a big shock to Juanita girls swim coach Dawn Maurer.

Her varsity girls swim team is loaded with talent, finishing second place in the 3A state meet last year and includes two juniors who are reigning state champs: 100-meter freestyle swimmer Emilie Kaufman and 200-meter freestyle swimmer Kelly Tannhauser.

“Coming off of the success both programs had last year, wouldn’t it be a shame that this could be our first and last banner?”, she said.

The pool also supports the activities of a number of aquatic sports clubs, public exercise time and lifeguard training classes.

The pool must also likely replace their drains to remain compliant with federal safety standards after several incidents tied to pool drains led to several accidental drownings across the US last year. Maurer couldn’t say if Juanita had the correct type of drain, but it would cost money to replace them. Pool manager Mike Fahrenbach estimated the improvements would cost around $10,000.

A number of parents and teachers were critical of the district’s attempts to raise awareness now on the possibility of the pool’s closure, saying it was too little, too late. An open letter written by resident Dwight Davis said the steps taken so far were “ill-considered … on multiple levels.”

The district was soliciting public input through an online survey on priorities for the 2009-2010 state budget cycle and extended the deadline for public input to April 5. Junaita High School’s PTSA discussed the issue at length at their March 11 meeting and parents met at the swimming pool the next evening to gather support and ideas on how to keep the facility open.

A school board meeting scheduled for March 17 was not scheduled to permit public comments on the issue, forcing the public to either wait until the next meeting on April 20 or contact officials directly via email.

“They’re getting lots of emails,” said Reith. “I think the school board is getting the message.”

State budget cuts proposed in December went easiest on education and public safety, but were still severe. The plan calls for $610 million in cuts to public education; $682 million in elimination of pay increases to state employees, including teachers; and $216 million in cuts to higher education. The proposed cuts were based on a projected $5.7 billion deficit in the state budget, which has since worsened in the following months to an estimated $8 billion hole. A decision on keeping the pool open will likely happen around April 26 when state legislators pass the 2009-2010 budget in Olympia.

“I don’t know what it would take to get corporate sponsorship – We could get backed by city of Kirkland,” Maurer said. “But lowering that shortfall would be ideal.”