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Pool to open next week with temporary fix

The Vashon Pool will open for the season next week as part of a short-term plan the park district approved last week.

After a lengthy discussion at the Vashon Park District’s public meeting on Tuesday, May 27, the park board voted to address the pool’s drainage needs this summer by transporting waste water off the island at a projected cost of $7,500. Commissioners also decided to postpone a decision about a long-term drainage plan, including a financial agreement with the school district, until later this year.

The decision to proceed with a temporary solution, delaying a permanent fix to the problem, was met with mixed reactions by the heads of the park district and Vashon School District, which have disagreed over who is financially responsible for a drainage solution at the pool.

Park District Executive Director Elaine Ott said she feels her board made a solid choice.

“I think that $7,500 to keep the pool open while we make a more measured, careful decision is money well spent,” she said. “It is good to make the right decision for the long haul.”

At the school district, however, Superintendent Michael Soltman said news of the decision surprised him.

“I was not aware that to continue to haul water was an option,” he said.

In recent months, the park and school districts have been working toward getting the pool open this summer, after it came to light that construction work at the new high school had interfered with  the pool’s drainage. Officials at both districts believed the pool’s water did not drain to the school septic field, and those involved with the construction made decisions accordingly, leaving the pool’s filters unable to drain. What’s more, pool water is no longer allowed into septic systems, a piece of information that was lost in the recent staff changes at the park district.

Park district staff have been working to ready the pool itself, while the school district has been focusing on finding a solution that regulators would approve and that could be implemented as inexpensively and quickly as possible. The Department of Ecology approved a potential solution last month.

However, officials from the two districts have disagreed about who is financially responsible for any solution and costs incurred, and last month the park district, which operates the pool, turned the matter over to its insurance company. Shortly after, the school district, which owns the pool, asked that the park district pay half of the cost of the proposed solution — a pipe from the pool to a nearby drainage pond. School board members also voted to require that the park district be responsible for water monitoring required as part of the plan and any other needed measures going forward.

With the decision the park board made last week, Soltman said the issues surrounding the pool and a potential solution have not changed.

“We are in the same place where we have been for months,” he said.

He added that the school district has invested $16,000 in identifying potential solutions to get the pool open and said he expects that financial outlay to be taken into consideration with any final agreement. Throughout the spring, he has stressed that he believes communication between the two districts is essential to reach an agreement.

“The only reasonable way is to work it out together,” he said again in an interview last week.

At the park district meeting, Ott informed commissioners that the insurance company will cover the $25,000 the park district has already spent to prepare the pool this year and likely half the anticipated $32,000 cost of installing the pipe to the pond.

Later, Ott noted that the dispute over the pool was never intended to be contentious. The district simply followed the advice of its insurance company, which was to not negotiate with the school district.

At the park board meeting, however, conversation about how best to proceed sometimes gave way to commissioners voicing their frustrations with the school district and its proposal.

“Why did they get to cut their losses?” Commissioner Bill Ameling asked at one point. “They caused the problem.”

“Not only did they cause the problem,” board chair Lu-Ann Branch responded, “they are creating the solution. … To me that is like the fox in hen house,” adding she didn’t mean the comment in a negative way.

Laura Wishik, an attorney who serves on the school board, spoke at the meeting, providing both historical context and insight into how the school district might proceed.

In 2010, Wishik said, King County wanted to cease operations at the pool, but the school district did not want to take the responsibility on, in part because the pool cannot be operated during the school year without installing a cover and because the school district believes its mission is education, not recreation.

The park district stepped in at that time, expressing the desire to run it, Wishik recalled.

Wishik said she wrote the lease between the school and park district and stressed that it is not a typical landlord-tenant lease, with the landlord being responsible for what she called “externals.”

“This lease does not say that,” Wishik said. “Because the only way I could convince my colleagues on the school board to accept keeping the pool instead of telling King County to fill the hole with concrete, which is what some of my colleagues wanted to do … was if the school district had no future costs.”

She added that during the high school construction, the school district paid $30,000 to hook up the pool’s toilets and showers to the septic system. No one disagrees that mistakes were made during construction, she said, but added she believes blaming one another will not help create a solution.

“We thought and you thought that the rest of the water went somewhere that none of us had to worry about it, and we were all wrong,” she said.

The majority of her colleagues on the school board “do not want to put a dime into the pool,” she told the commissioners.

“The offer you have on the table in front of you is a major compromise,” she said. “We are putting some real money into keeping that pool going. But the only way a majority of the school board will put that money down is if we know it is the end.”

Following Wishik’s comments, the park board commissioners picked up their conversation,  considering the merits of various approaches, including a more expensive solution that might prove more efficient and cheaper in the long run. In the end, the board voted unanimously to open the pool with the water hauling solution, explore all its options and engage in conversations with the school district later.

Wishik, reached after the meeting, said she feels good about the park board’s decision.

“It is a good pause to take, and hopefully we will end with a long-term solution that will work for everybody,” she said.

Branch also said she welcomed the board’s decision, in part because it will give the part district time to gauge community interest in the pool.

“I am not a pool-at-any-cost person,” she said. “The greater community has to support the pool as well.”

Branch added that as the two districts move ahead, she believes an additional conversation should take place, this one about the school district’s role in offering swim programs.

“Why do they think they do not have a role in educating children in the sport of swimming like they do in other sports, particularly when they own the facility?” she said.

Acknowledging the contract between the park and school boards, she said she thinks there still might be options for more school district involvement with the pool.

“Just because we have a contract does not mean it cannot change,” she said.

The pool will open Saturday, June 14, for lap swims from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Free swimming and a community party will follow between 1 and 7 p.m. with food, music, games and prizes.

Season passes will be available at a discount, and people can also sign up for swimming lessons and sailing camp.

 

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