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Sonoma school district, nonprofit may partner to build pool

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Plans for a long-awaited community pool in Sonoma are going swimmingly at last, with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District negotiating with Sonoma Splash to partner to build a pool for residents and students on the Sonoma Valley High School campus.

The pool will probably cost around $9 million, and fees from community members using the pool could help offset its estimated $200,000 annual operating costs, Bruce Abbott, associate superintendent, business, for the district, reported at Tuesday’s Sonoma Unified School District board meeting.

“Sonoma Splash partnering with SVUD is really a great model of how to work together as a community,” said board member Nicole Ducarroz at the meeting.

The Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association, better known as Sonoma Splash, worked for years toward the goal of building a public pool at the site of the old Paul’s Resort property in El Verano.

After encountering a series of obstacles, the nonprofit sold the 6-acre property to MidPen Housing, an affordable housing firm, and Norman Krug, a local hotel developer, in July. Sonoma Splash is now in talks with the school district to use a good chunk of the profit from the sale to make the high school pool more community-oriented.

Plans are fluid at the moment, but the idea right now is for two pools next to each other, one a little more than half the size of the other. The small pool is a shallow “learn to swim” pool that is warmer than the other pool.

The pools are located near a multipurpose building in a more centralized area of campus than originally envisioned, Tenaya Dale of Counterpoint Construction said in a report at the meeting. Dale is managing a multi-million-dollar bond project for the district that was originally going to pay the pool’s entire cost.

“This is awesome,” board member Sal Chavez said. “It’s an inspirational project.” Chavez asked if the revenue generated by the programs for residents might cover the pool’s maintenance costs in full.

“The revenue we will generate depends on our access to the pool,” said Paul Favaro, president of the Sonoma Splash board. “We are figuring this out now. It’s all subject to discussion.”

To give a general idea, Favaro said the pool that was planned on Verano was almost identical, and with 100 percent availability to the community, “our revenues would be somewhere north of $1 million per year.”

Sonoma Splash plans to present offerings including swimming lessons, water aerobics, age-group swim competitions and lap swimming, Favaro said.

“One of our goals is to ensure by fourth grade every Sonoma Valley student has learned to swim, because there is a spike in drownings around the fourth grade,” the Sonoma Splash board president said.

“This is a great opportunity for our community,” Celeste Winders, a Sonoma mother of four, told the board.

“My son is autistic and benefits greatly from swimming,” Winders said. Noting that one of the pools would be warmer than the other, she said, “Having one pool that is warmer makes a big difference to autistic kids.”

Aquatic therapy is a recognized approach for those on the autism spectrum, and warm water is thought to decrease stress.

Winders added, “I miss the pool.”

For years the high school had an on-campus pool that also served as a community pool. However, the pool was filled in 2005 at the request of the then-district superintendent Kim Jamieson because of safety and liability concerns and the cost of upgrading the aged pumping system. Jamieson resigned in early November of that same year.

Filling in the high school pool left the community high and dry, without a pool, and also meant that the school’s swim and water polo teams had to practice off-campus.

“Forty-eight years ago I started the Sea Dragons,” said Sonoma resident Terry Garrison, referring to the teams. “You can only have one boss. You can’t have Sonoma Splash, the school and the city all bossing the pool. Somebody has to be in charge.”

Abbott noted that money from Sonoma Splash will be used to create a separate building for the public that will serve as a locker room and entrance to the pool so community members have a place to change separate from the students’ locker room.

The board didn’t take any action regarding the pool, which was on the agenda as a discussion-only item.

The next steps, Abbott said, are creating a formal arrangement between Splash and the district, developing a capital plan and an operating plan, exploring energy efficiencies – half of the $200,000 yearly operating cost is heating the pools – “and then we need to construct the pool … and then go for a swim.”

Reach Janis at janis.mara@sonomanews.com.