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Sonoma Splash gives $1.5 million for new Sonoma Valley High School aquatics complex

As students and community members eagerly await the opening of a new aquatics complex at Sonoma Valley High School, an organization that is helping to finance the project is ready to present the Sonoma Valley Union School District with a $1.5 million contribution.

Sonoma Splash (aka The Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association)—a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that was formed some 20 years ago to help bring a modern, multiuse community aquatics center to Sonoma Valley—planned to give the money to the district at an event at the school on April 14, but it was postponed due to bad weather. Sonoma Splash plans to reschedule the event soon and the aquatics complex is slated to open in early September.

“The board of Sonoma Splash and all or our generous donors are so excited to see this project finally come to fruition,” said Paul Favaro, president of the board. “Our goal is to create a community space that inspires residents for across the valley to come together. The key to our community pool vision is its accessibility to all residents of Sonoma Valley, with a wider variety of aquatics programming to suit our diverse community’s needs.”

His wife, Mary Favaro, also a board member, says that Sonoma Splash will be making a substantial ongoing contribution.

“It begins with this initial contribution, which will be acknowledged and celebrated at the pool site,” she said.

Another board member, Sam Cotturi, lauds the commitment SVUSD has also made to the project.

“We are equally grateful for all the hard work of our partners at the school district,” he said. “It took persistence and ingenuity to reach this goal.”

The aquatics center will be located on the eastern edge of the main campus in essentially the same local as a pool that was filled in 2005 due to safety concerns and upkeep costs. The center is projected to cost $15.9 million, paid for by $12.4 million of the school district’s Measure E funds, $2 million in other district facility funds and $1.5 million in Sonoma Splash contributions.

In May 2020, the SVUSD Board of Trustees approved an arrangement in which the district has ownership of the aquatics center property and pool facilities while Sonoma Splash has a nonexclusive right to use or rent the pool facilities for public usage.

“The first priority for use of the aquatics complex will belong to SVHS programs,” said SVUSD Superintendent Dr. Adrian Palazuelos. “Splash will be operating its programming during the times when SVHS is not using the facility.

“One of the primary reasons the district has entered into a joint use agreement with Splash is to provide ongoing operating funds to offset the operating costs. All funds raised by the Splash programs will be transferred back to the district.”

SVUSD will assign staff to receive training and certification of pool maintenance as part of its responsibility to provide maintenance of the aquatics complex. Operational oversight of the complex will belong to SVHS for school programs and Splash for community programs.

Palazuelos said that the aquatics complex project at SVHS was identified in the facility master plan, which was created in 2011. After the Measure E was approved in 2015, the district planned and prioritized many facility projects, including the aquatics complex. He says that the Splash pool project and the district’s aquatics complex started as different projects.

“We agreed to meet regularly to review the status as the projects progressed,” he said. “Splash had raised enough funds to purchase land near Maxwell Park, with plans to develop the land to include the pool facility and other mixed use. The mixed-use development was expected to generate the needed funds for the pool facility. Splash was not able to find a development partner, so it started discussing working together with SVUSD on the SVHS property. Splash sold the property that it had purchased and committed $1.5 million in funds for pool facilities construction.”

Mary Favaro says that Splash has been in discussions with the school district on and off for more than 15 years—since the original pool was demolished in 2005—about collaborating on an aquatics facility that would serve both the needs of the school district and the greater Sonoma Valley community.

The facility, which has not yet been given a name, will include a 132-foot-by-75-foot competition swimming pool, a 60-foot-by-30-foot instructional pool and a 2,640-square-foot community clubhouse with a locker room, showers and changing areas, as well as restrooms, storage space and a reception area. The community clubhouse will be for public use only because the high school students have their own facilities. Mary Favaro said that all these components will be ready when the facility opens.

The larger pool will be used for many purposes, including adult programs that offer lap swim lanes, master swimming and triathlon training, adult and older youth swim lessons, deep-water and high-intensity aquatics fitness and cross training, and athlete rehabilitation. It will also host specialized recreational programs--including scuba diving, kayak and paddleboard classes, and aqua wall climbing—as well as family-friendly recreation, birthday parties and social functions.

It also will be used for club sports—such as swimming, diving and water polo competition, including feeder programs for high school teams—as well as introductory classes in competitive swimming, diving and water polo Splash Ball (a water polo feeder program). The pool will also host after-school programming of outside user groups such as the Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley. Summer programs will include youth sports camps, recreational swim team activities, aquatics sports clinics, and lifeguard and Red Cross certification programs.

The smaller, warm-water instructional pool will offer youth swim lessons, pre-team programs (possibly in cooperation with local club teams), aquatics fitness, senior programs, after-school programs involving outside user groups and special needs programs, including athlete rehab, aquatics therapy, Special Olympics, Paralympics, Autism Spectrum, and Wounded Warriors and other veterans’ programs.

“We have recently begun discussions with potential user groups and nonprofits in the community about opportunities to partner on programs,” Mary Favaro said. “In concert with that, we are working on a programming model that will define the hours of access to the community. We will announce that as information becomes available. Fees will be charged for all programming, but we are fundraising to provide scholarships to the valley’s socioeconomically disadvantaged residents for many of our programs.

“For example, a primary goal of Sonoma Splash is for all Sonoma Valley residents to learn to swim safely by the third grade, and we are determined to eliminate individual access and financial means as barriers to achieving this goal.”

Susie Gallo, executive director of Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, emphasizes the importance of this goal.

“Learning to swim is not only a safety issue, but also a critical life skill, as important as learning to read or ride a bicycle,” she said. “We are absolutely thrilled to partner with Sonoma Splash to offer swim lessons to our 300-plus mentees in the beautiful new pool complex at SVHS.”

Sonoma Splash plans to continue contributing to the ongoing costs of the aquatics facility through fundraising and revenue generated by community aquatics programs. Mary Favaro is focusing on community outreach and fundraising.

“We will have major fundraising initiatives large and small, such as naming rights opportunities and funding youth learn-to-swim scholarships,” she said, adding that the initiatives soon will be announced.

Favaro joined the Sonoma Splash board four years ago. Her husband has been board president for about 10 years.

Reflecting back on the history of the project, Paul Favaro recalls that many challenges arose.

“We have all been working on it for the better part of a decade, and one of our board members, Arden Kremer, has been actively working on developing a community pool for over 20 years,” he said. “It goes to show how difficult it can be to bring together the right partners, the right location and the necessary resources at just the right time to make it actually happen.

“But it is also a testament to the perseverance of all those in the community who have been working on bringing this project together for so long. Their efforts are about to be rewarded.”

Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at daniel.johnson@sonomanews.com.

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