Sonoma Splash partners with SVUSD on community swim complex

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For details on the Splash/SVHS collaboration, go the SVUSD website.

The Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association, known colloquially as Sonoma Splash, plans to parlay profits from the sale of its West Verano property into a community aquatic facility on the Sonoma Valley High School (SVHS) campus.

“We expect to bring $1-2 million to the high school pool project,” Splash board president Paul Favaro told the Index-Tribune last week. “But $1-2 million isn’t going to build a pool. It’s a contribution.”

SVUSD associate superintendent Bruce Abbott agreed, estimating total costs could reach $8 million. Construction is tentatively planned for 2020.

The aquatic facility will be open to the public before and after school hours, Favaro said, with community access made through a dedicated structure. Students will access the pool through the existing SVHS locker rooms, allowing for clear articulation between community and school use.

Previously, concerns about student security made a dual-use facility complicated for SVHS. But the newest iteration of the Splash concept calls for pool placement at the eastern edge of the main campus, in essentially the same location at the old high school pool. Leadership at the Sonoma Valley Unified School District (SVUSD) is satisfied that student safety can be ensured. “The district’s views on access have evolved,” Favaro said.

“This is a great spot,” Abbott concurred. “One, there’s a small parking lot there, so people won’t have to walk onto campus. Two, Splash will fund the community building there, and that will be their access point. To me, it’s a much improved plan.”

In nearly 10 years of trying to bring a public pool to the Valley, Sonoma Splash had studied several different possibilities. Last summer, they abandoned plans for a sprawling swim complex on a 6-acre parcel purchased in 2014, determining that “the market told us something other than a community pool needed to be built on the Verano site.”

For decades, 175 Verano Ave. was home to the long defunct Paul’s Resort and the beloved Paul’s Field, where generations of local kids played Little League baseball. Sale of the parcel is still pending after nearly a year, but purchaser Norman Krug, owner of the Sonoma Valley Inn, is expected to close escrow in July. According to Favaro, Krug is planning a 120-room hotel for one half of the parcel and partnering with MidPen Housing to build affordable housing on the other half. Krug has also “pledged a sizeable donation” to Sonoma Little League to ease their transition to the baseball diamonds planned for Maxwell Park.

Ten to 15 major donors made the purchase of the Verano Avenue site possible, and according to Favaro, none of them have asked to be reimbursed. Instead, those major donors will roll their donations into the SVHS pool complex, fulfilling their mission to build a “sustainable, state of the art, multi-use aquatic and recreation facility accessible to all Sonoma Valley residents.”

Though plans are still fluid, Sonoma Splash expects the finished complex will include one competition length lap pool for “horizontal activities,” and a second warmer, shallower pool for “vertical activities.”

Vertical activities are critical to the sustainability of public pools, and include things like swim lessons and water aerobics.

“It’s all about depth and temperature,” explained Sam Cotturi, who, like Favaro, has served on the Splash board since its inception. “The smaller, warmer pool will be the moneymaker.”

“That said, this is not a profit-generating business,” added Favaro.

Keeping a community pool open in perpetuity is at least equal to the task of its initial construction, and long-term sustainability has always been the first goal of the Sonoma Splash board. To that end, Splash intends to co-manage the pool at SVHS, bringing its decade of research to the table.

“We’ll need a professional who knows how to run an aquatic facility,” Favaro said. “We can’t just relegate management to a P.E. teacher. It’ll be a full-time job, a specialty thing.”

In the near term, however, SVUSD’s attention remains focused on construction of other athletic infrastructure at SVHS. “Right now, the high school fields are the priority,” Abbott said.

Regardless of the inevitability of more patient waiting, the Splash board remains steadfast. “Nothing is a lock, but we’re very confident. This is a great iteration of our plan. We’ve made compromises, we’ve learned lessons. But this is the only time we’ve had money and a site and a sustainable business model,” Favaro said.

Coturri smiled and leaned back in his chair. “We believe,” he said.

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For details on the Splash/SVHS collaboration, go the SVUSD website.

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