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Jason Walsh: Sonoma still needs a public pool

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“This summer I did swan dives and jackknifes for you all/ And once when you weren’t looking I did a cannonball” – Loudon Wainwright III, “The Swimming Song”

Around 2,500 BCE in the settlement of Mohenjo-daro, in modern-day Pakistan, there was a 40-foot by 20-foot tank about 8 feet deep laid of bricks and filled by rainwater and from water stored in an adjacent room. The tank was surrounded by brick columns with edges that are thought to have held window frames. Large entrances led to the tank from the north and south, from which a pair of staircases guided bathers deeper into the water.

The “great bath” is considered to be the earliest-known public water facility in the ancient world.

Just imagine: A mud-dwelling agrarian society 25 centuries ago managed to build a community swimming pool, yet Sonomans are sweating in their back yard sprinklers to this day.

Earlier this spring, the nonprofit Sonoma Splash abandoned its long-held hopes to develop a mixed-use housing and public pool center at the site of the old Paul’s Resort property in El Verano. After seven attempts to work out a deal with a revolving door of housing developers who would generate the revenue needed to support on onsite community swimmin’ hole, Splash board member Paul Favaro told the Index-Tribune in April, “The market told us that something other than a community pool needed to be built on the Verano site.”

Clearly, building a public pool is no day at the beach.

It’s been four years since Splash – aka the Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association – acquired the 6-acre parcel at 175 W. Verano Ave. with dreams of a erecting 2.5-acre aquatic recreation center, bringing to the Valley its first community swimming pool since the Sonoma Valley High School pool was filled in more than a decade ago. After a partnership with a health club, and enough housing deals to make your head swim (if nothing else) fell through, Splash officials say they plan to sell the property and regroup.

That was at the end of April, when spring’s late-season winds and rains still found Sonoma residents in knit jumpers and knee-high rubber boots. But here we are nearly a week from summer – the temps are cresting 80 and the Valley’s lack of cool, watery relief is beginning to take its toll yet again.

But don’t deflate that Donald Duck floatie just yet, Sonoma.

Sonoma Splash this spring held informal conversations with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District officials about the possibility of locating an aquatic center somewhere on the Sonoma Valley High School campus – an idea that’s not only a return to the Valley’s community-pool roots at SVHS, but also a chance to right not only the Splash ship, but the school district’s as well.

As the school district’s head of business services told Index-Tribune reporter Kate Williams in April, a collaboration with Splash could be a huge positive for SVUSD.

“We’d really be using our bond dollars so that more of the community can benefit,” said Abbott at the time.

A plan for a community-wide use of the Measure E bond dollars couldn’t come at a better time, as the school district this year has been rattled by an ongoing string of difficult issues – from budget cuts to opposition over a new superintendent to a litany of resignations.

The issue of the school district’s $120 million Measure E bond that passed in 2016 continues to rankle many Valley voters – see today’s Pulse of the Public – who say the public campaign for the bond focused on funding campus infrastructure and safe facilities, while the district’s controversial plan to also construct a state-of-the-art athletic stadium was intentionally muted on the advice of campaign consultants – a point conceded by School District Trustee John Kelly at a school board meeting last September.

Partnering with Splash to bring its hopes – and, quite frankly, a hope of a vast number of local residents and families – of a public pool to fruition would go a long way for the school district to recapture the community goodwill it enjoyed when it rode a wave of 69 percent approval of Measure E almost exactly a year ago. That wave could swell again, if toward a community benefit like a state-of-the-art public pool.

Something to think about when the thermometer tops 90 as expected next week. Stay cool, Sonoma. And remember: sunscreen.

Email Jason at jason.walsh@sonomanews.com.