The pool at Columbia High School, scheduled to be closed at the end of this school year, has been thrown a life line.
The Finance, Facilities and Technology committee of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education will discuss the potential for keeping the CHS pool open for another year or two at its scheduled meeting next week and then report out to the full Board of Education on March 21.
The decision was made after a conversation at a budget workshop tonight.
Board of Education member Johanna Wright questioned why the pool, which she described as operating well, was being closed.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos said that whether or not the pool remained open was not a part of the 2016-17 budget discussion. Ramos explained that administration had been acting on the directive of the Board of Education which voted in November 2013 to close the pool in two years time in order to convert it to classroom space.
“It’s just something we are presuming we have to do based on the decision the Board made previously,” said Ramos. “From a budget perspective we haven’t discussed it at all. In fact, the issue remains not ‘Are we closing?’ but ‘What are we going to do with that space?'”
Board member Beth Daugherty explained that during the 2012-13 school year, the Board spent substantial time deliberating on the future of the pool which needed extensive repairs. At the same time, the Board was formulating a facilities plan to deal with projected increased enrollment at the high school. A proposed $8.1 million plan to improve the pool and expand it into an aquatic center (which Daugherty supported) was scrapped.
(Read Village Green’s coverage of the CHS Facilities Plan here.)
“We decided that we couldn’t justify that expense for the pool and not gain any more instructional space.” Daugherty recollected that, after “numerous community meetings” the decision was made to do “bandaid repairs to get two more years out of the pool.”
She noted that the pool was now past the end of that timeframe but said that — if “the pool is possibly viable for another year safety wise” — the FFT would consider keeping it open until there is a plan for repurposing it.
“We know how important the swim program is and the idea of using it another year or two … it’s a matter of how much money we have to put into it. If we can and it makes financial sense, we will.”
During public comments, one parent urged the Board to keep the pool open indefinitely, saying that it could be a profit center rented out for meets and classes.