Pool guru sees smooth waters for Sonoma Splash

The big blue signs that have recently been popping up around town are soothing just to look at – a gentle aqua design of a swimming pool, a web address (, a single word: Community. It’s all part of the accelerating effort to bring a public swimming pool back to the Valley at last – 10 years after the pool at Sonoma Valley High School was drained, filled and covered over.

Just in time for the drought.

“We’re very conscious of water use,” said Stuart Isaac, president of the national recreation consultancy Isaac Sports Group. “Most of the pools we see today use water-use-reduction techniques, including perlite filters and pool blankets to prevent evaporation. Plus the blankets keep the heat in over night, and that means less energy use overall.”

Isaac was in Sonoma last week to work with the Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association; the nonprofit organization started in 2000 has recently been sharply focused on bringing a sustainable, multi-use aquatic facility for use by all residents back to Sonoma Valley. It was his second visit – the first was in February – but Isaac seemed to like what he saw.

“I’m very impressed with the quality of the overall team,” he said. His company has had some 50 clients, roughly 10 per year since they started in 2008. “A lot of time we deal with people in the dream stage – we’re the first reality check,” he said. “This project is not like that.”

The team he referred to includes board members Paul Favaro, president of SVHRA (Sonoma Splash is their “street” name, if you will); Arden Kremer, Swim America instructor at Hanna Boys School; former SVHS competitive swimmer Sam Coturri (and Kremer’s son); and several others working on the project, many of whom were also former competition swimmers.

Isaac himself was an All-American in the breaststroke at the University of Michigan, later coaching that university’s women’s swim team before moving to the private sector, where he spent 26 years in marketing for Speedo USA.

All of them, with the possible exception of Kremer, displace more water now than they did when in competition.

Envisioning the need for a pool is one thing; making it practical, serviceable and sustainable is something else. That’s the stage that Sonoma Splash finds itself in now, as officials attempt to design the facility, apply for all the necessary permits, set up a financial structure – and, most importantly at this point, raise support.

Right now, according to Favaro, the organization has about $2 million promised – and needs about $10 million more. “It’s ultimately community-wide support that is going to make this successful,” he said. “Our goal is to make everyone in the community involved; with broad support this will get done.“

That includes outreach to social groups not usually sympathetic to recreational swimming. “We’ve received lots of counseling from experts on a site tailored to this Valley’s population and demographic,” he said. He cited the Boys & Girls Club at one end of the spectrum, and the Vintage House at the other.

Ironically, some hesitation about a community pool comes from the reverse of the Not-In-My-Back-Yard crowd – many potential backers of the project actually do have swimming pools in their back yard, so they may not see the need for a community facility.

“People say they have a pool, but does their pool have programs?” counters Favaro. “Where their kids can learn to swim, play water sports with friends? It’s one thing to have a backyard pool, but most kids will choose to go to a community pool because that’s where all the fun is.”

The vision for the facility is more than just a swimming pool, but a community recreation center. Paul’s Field will be retained as an important part of the “community” equation, with Little Leaguers enjoying the proximity of a cool swim after a challenging seven-inning game.

“We see the baseball field as an integral part of the community center,” emphasized board member Kremer, quashing rumors the new pool facility would discard the 50-year agreement with Sonoma Valley Little League and take out the field.

Negotiations are also underway with a fitness club to build a facility on site, as a commercial partner to the nonprofit Sonoma Splash.

The pools themselves, incorporating the expertise of Isaac and other facilities experts, are being designed for maximal community use: a 60- by 30-foot smaller and shallow pool, held at 87 degrees, for younger swimmers and seniors; and a more competitively-sized 10-lane pool measuring 116 by 75 feet and heated to about 81 degrees. Buttresses will separate training lanes from recreational lanes so the public won’t find themselves kicked out by a team practice.

Considerations about the drought have been on the board’s collective mind from the beginning. “Virtually our entire planning process has taken place during this most recent drought,” said Favaro. “Perhaps the most important thing to realize is that well-built, well-managed community pools are extraordinarily water efficient, much more so than your typical back-yard pool.”

Sonoma architects Ross Drulis Cusenbery are involved in planning out the site, and Sonoma Splash anticipates filing permit applications to the county this summer. Allowing a year for revisions and the permitting process, construction is planned to begin in late summer 2016, with Memorial Day 2017 the hoped-for opening weekend.

The goal of the board and its chairman Favaro remains clear: To create a recreational centerpiece for the city and the Valley, located in the geographic and demographic epicenter of Sonoma Valley.

With the county’s Maxwell Farms Regional Park located across the street, Favaro sees more opportunities than just shared parking spaces. “We think the synergy could be fantastic,” said Favaro. “They’ve got a new Master Plan in development. Having a pool across the street may influence their plan by adding a nearby multi-activity recreational site.”

In the next few weeks, according to Sonoma Splash’s interim executive director Tanya Russell, they’ll introduce the next phase of the project. “We look forward to opening day, but we also want to get people engaged now. So we’re building an entire campaign around raising awareness of the project, and that includes our goal of developing the most sustainable facility possible,” she said.

“Every time I talk to someone else I get so excited about the project,” said Stu Isaacs, before he left town for his next pool consultancy project in Austin, or perhaps Gainesville. Sonoma Splash is hoping that excitement is contagious.

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