Sonoma pool group seeking a site

The group of Sonoma residents looking to build a community pool in city limits may be one step closer to taking that first swim.

Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association (SVHRA), a nonprofit comprised of Valley residents (including those in the former Citizens United for a Sonoma Pool) who want to bring a public pool to Sonoma, has had four donors step forward with seed money and pledges for the $7-million-plus project, said group treasurer Sam Coturri.

The charter members of the fundraising group, according to Coturri, are Hamel Family Wines owners Pam and George Hamel, Repris Wines owner Jim Momtazee, and screenwriter and owner of Kamen Estate Wines Robert Mark Kamen. “This core group will be the cornerstone of our fundraising,” Coturri said.

A Sonoma native, Coturri remembers swimming at the high school pool and seeing his mom, who is a local swim instructor, fight to bring a community pool to Sonoma for the last 20 years. “Every community needs to have access to and the opportunity to learn to swim, so people can stay active and healthy, have fun and make friends,” said Coturri, adding that after two years of working on bringing a pool to Sonoma, it seems like the project finally has enough momentum.

The group made a splash at the Vintage Festival parade on its bubbly blue float, created with Illusions Lighting and as one of the festival’s beneficiaries. In an effort to show the community the group is ready to begin building a pool, SVHRA launched its new brand campaign, Sonoma Splash. In June 2013, the United States Swimming Association selected SVHRA for an in-house “Build-a-Pool” conference, at which it counseled attendees on how to build an economically sustainable and beneficial facility. Shortly thereafter, former Olympic swimmer, American record holder for breaststroke and Index-Tribune Food and Wine Editor Kathleen Hill joined SVHRA’s board.

The group’s board, which consists of well-known community members, including Mayor Ken Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Rouse, is set on the goal of building a community access pool to provide swimming instruction and swim lessons to Sonomans, especially those in underserved and at-risk populations.

In early 2012, SVHRA had plans to build the pool at the corner of Broadway and MacArthur (where Sonoma Truck and Auto Center is), but pool group members decided the property was too expensive for their project and decided to look elsewhere.

Brown, who is SVHRA’s board director, says he was never happy with the pool at SVHS and he and the nonprofit group feel a pool closer to the center of town – closer to the majority of Sonoma’s at-risk families – is key to fulfilling SVHRA’s mission. “This pool is one of the City Council’s top 10 goals,” Brown said.

The ideal spot, the group decided, is closer to the center of Sonoma Valley – near Highway 12 and Verano Avenue. “Our ground zero is Maxwell Park,” says SVHRA board President Paul Favaro.

However, with the park’s master plan currently in the beginning stages of a comprehensive revision, the group realized that it might not even get the green light to build from the county until at least mid-2015.

“We are currently pursuing private property,” Coturri said, “and we are closer to securing a location than we have been in the last two years.”

Favaro said, with community members ready to contribute money to the project, the group can’t wait any longer for the county, so it is looking to buy a minimum of two acres, with three-to-3.5-acres being the ideal lot size to build its dream facility.

While SVHRA is not ready to release the specific location of properties it is considering, Favaro says the group is looking at properties within a two-mile radius of Maxwell Park and talking to members of the surrounding neighborhood to ensure that the community is supportive of the project.

As part of its efforts to create a project in keeping with community interests, SVHRA conducted a study with a private marketing firm in fall of 2012 to gauge the interests of residents living within an eight-to-10-mile radius of Sonoma.

Eventually, Coturri says, the group will hold meetings to hear public concerns and share details about many of the elements that have been considered and addressed in the plans.

The survey showed an overwhelming amount of support for a pool and concluded the group should “reasonably proceed” with the pool project. Of the 308 residents surveyed in designated areas, 57 percent said they would use the pool if it were available at a reasonable cost. The residents who said they would use the pool, rated the pool’s benefit to the community on a scale of one to four at 3.65. Not having an alternative in the area was the highest reason given to build a pool, and giving people a place to exercise and children something to do were the second and third reasons.

With a pool in the area, the group feels it will provide equal access to Sonoma residents who want to swim, creating particularly easy access to underserved residents. “The ability to teach your child to swim is an economic stratifier,” Coturri said. “Swimming is a life-saving skill and it’s a travesty that the community hasn’t made this happen yet.”

Unlike the Agua Caliente pool, or pools at gyms such as Parkpoint, Sonoma Splash will not require memberships for entry. While there will be a cost to swim, Favaro says, the group plans to make access affordable, potentially including subsidized programs and scholarships to make sure low-income families can attend.

Favaro notes that while a pool alone (which only needs about two acres) will draw attention with swim meets and short-course invitationals, a facility on 2.8 acres or more would enable construction of a larger, mixed-use facility. He said SVHRA wants to not only improve swim education, but also to increase the level of recreation for older populations with low-impact aquatic exercise programs. Coturri, Favaro and Brown say a pool in the area, which would be located on the bus line, would stimulate other businesses.

The facility the group is hoping to build would include a 25-yard, eight-lane pool, a kiddie pool, an instructional pool, a snack bar, locker rooms, reception area, picnic area, rock-climbing gym, and dance or workout studios. It would be modeled after the Ives Pool in Sebastopol and the community pool in Calistoga. The goal, explained Favaro, is to have a mixed-use facility where families can come and stay engaged in one of the activities, such as aqua-aerobics, pilates or rock climbing while the children take swim lessons. “It’d be more than just a pool – it’d be a facility that pays for itself on the whole or gets as close as possible,” Favaro explained, adding the USSA encouraged programming and land activities as a means to sustain the pool year-round. SVHRA, Favaro points out, is also looking to create partner-programs with local organizations including Sonoma Valley Hospital, Sonoma Valley schools and even Sonoma Aquatic Club.

Favaro hopes the pool will open as soon as Memorial Day weekend, 2015. For more information on the pool project, visit sonomasplash.org.