Northwest NEWS

October 21, 2002

Front Page

Will Northshore Pool Close? Local citizens rally to save community pool.

by Bronwyn Wilson
   Senior Staff Writer
   bhsswim.jpg

Bothell and Inglemoor high schools recently held a swim meet at the Northshore pool. Photo by John Harmeling
  

Enter the front doors of the Northshore Pool in Bothell and you'll notice the question written in black and pink ink. Posted on a white board in the pool's entry, the question asks, "Is the Northshore Pool closing?" A yellow sign, hanging next to the men's locker room, answers: "Most likely, yes."
   The sign goes on to explain that King County will close 10 county pools within city limits Dec. 31, 2002. It advises patrons of actions they can take to save the Northshore Pool, such as signing petitions, sending e-mails to city representatives, joining a rally march and voicing public comments at Bothell, Woodinville and Kenmore City Council meetings.
   In the interim, the Northshore Pool continues to provide happy times for pool patrons. On a Saturday afternoon in October, 25 people splash, laugh and toss beach balls in the pool's blue-green water.
   The building, brightened by sunlight trailing through upper story windows, almost seems too cheery to have a black cloud of doom hanging over it. Should the pool close, the humid, chlorine-scented room that has hosted fun activities for the past thirty years will become as silent as a monastery. Public swims, birthday parties, and every other program held at the pool will have to seek another venue.
   That possibility doesn't set well with a group of community members who hope to turn the pool's impending fate around. Bret Williams, head coach for WAVE Aquatics, organized a task force and began garnering support from local pool user groups. "We're trying to get hundreds of people motivated. We want the politicians to understand the value of the pool to the community," said Williams, mentioning the pool provides swim lessons, sports, exercise and therapy for injury and health. "It's a safety issue and a quality of life issue too," he said. "When people move to the Eastside, there's an expectation that there's a [local] pool and that their kids will learn how to swim." He doesn't see how the YMCA or private sports clubs could handle the volume that the Northshore Pool currently handles and explained, "The Northshore YMCA is a great addition, but it won't be able to satisfy all pool user groups."
   In addition, Williams believes the seasonal Cottage Lake Pool, one of King County's five "save"' pools, doesn't have the room to meet the need of local user groups. "It can't carry the volume we have," he said. "It's a nice little extra, but it isn't adequate."
   He pointed out that the Northshore Pool, which measures 40 yards in length, can serve classes and workouts simultaneously. Aquarobics and lessons, for instance, hold classes on opposite ends of the pool at the same time.
   The task force wants the local municipalities the pool serves, which includes Bothell, Kenmore and Woodinville, to provide financial backing so that the pool will continue operating until a special bond levy can be placed on a ballot in spring 2003. Should voters pass the levy, a replacement pool would be built.
   On Oct. 7 approximately 40 local citizens attended the Woodinville City Council meeting to request the City's assistance in keeping the pool open.
   Many spoke before the Council, including students on the Woodinville High School (WHS) swim team and their coach John Harmeling. The closure of the pool will affect three high school swim programs that use the Northshore Pool and WHS junior, Peter Doblar, expressed how it would affect him personally. "I will lose the opportunity to enjoy swimming activities," he told the Council. Doblar competes in the WHS swim program and practices at the pool every day after school for two hours. Jeffrey Kirk, a home-schooled high school senior, has worked out at the pool five days a week since his freshman year. He also addressed the Council, telling them, "My high school swim team has been the highlight of my high school years."
   After hearing many other public comments from people wanting to see the Northshore Pool stay open, Councilmember Don Brocha said, "I understand why you're coming to us, but there's very little the Woodinville City Council can do." The other Council members at the dais agreed. They mentioned, though, that there was a possibility they could help as part of a regional effort.
   Karen Reed, King County's special projects coordinator for the Dept. of Natural Resources and Parks (DNR&P), has been leading negotiations between the cities, school district and the YMCA.
   "I appreciate the willingness of the cities and school district to try and make this work," Reed said. "But it's too early to see if we'll find a solution." She added that she isn't prepared to discuss details of the negotiations at this time.
   She would talk, however, about the County's budget crisis saying that it arises from a continuing growth in criminal justice costs.
   According to Reed, King County has had to focus on matters concerning the state of law, which involves costs for courts, sheriffs, jails and prosecutors. With the County facing a $52 million shortfall for 2003, transferring or mothballing facilities inside cities is expected to save as much as $6.2 million of the $9.1 million needed to meet the Park's Division's 2003 budget.
   Logan Harris, Media Relations Coordinator for the DNR&P, explained, "We will still operate 5 local pools, but we're seeking to transfer or mothball 10 pools inside cities."
   Mothballing means the pools will remain full of water maintained at a 50-degree temperature with filtration systems running. The pool buildings will stay locked and only open for staff dropping by to check-up.
   In this way, King County hopes to maintain the pools so they can re-open at minimal cost. "If some pools do close in January, we will continue seeking ways to re-open," said Harris. "We will not be able to operate, but we will look for creative partnerships.... We're offering a generous financial package to those that will take ownership of the pool, including: 5 years of capital needs, $50,000 for capital enhancements and enough to operate the pool for about three months in 2003." Costs to operate the Northshore Pool for the 2001-year was $647,974 with revenues at $210,881 for a net amount of $437,093.
   Meanwhile, those wanting to save the pool say they will continue to rally their cause. On Monday, October 21, they marched from the pool to the Bothell City Hall.
   A week before the scheduled march, Coach Harmeling discussed the purpose, "It will be a peaceful and orderly march to present a petition to the City to do what they can to help keep the pool open." To this date, the Bothell City Council has said they don't have the funds to operate the pool, stating it's not cost efficient. Said Coach Harmeling, "If the pool is to survive, it will need to be supported by the three municipalities in the Northshore School District. The school district said they would contribute their 'fair share' to run the pool."
   It's his hope the cities will find a way to make that happen. "It should be within their best interest," he added, "If they don't provide activities for kids, they'll have to provide police for kids."
   Harmeling has coached swim teams at the Northshore Pool since 1977. "The pool serves a lot of people," he said. "Three high school swim teams, WAVE Aquatics, senior lap swims and swim lessons...it's a tremendously used pool." He isn't certain where his students will practice if the pool closes. "The opportunities are severely limited.
   There will be St. Edwards Seminary Pool (in Kenmore) but it will only be open for another year."
   Also, St. Edwards isn't equipped with diving boards and Harmeling said he'd have to bolt one on if the St. Edwards pool becomes the alternative choice.
   Northshore's high school swim teams may not have any further worries after this season, however. All Star Fitness, a 60,000 square foot sports club will open in Woodinville, May or June 2003. Owner and President Bob Padgett has been negotiating a plan with the Northshore School District which would allow schools to hold swim meets and practice sessions in the club's new six-lane competition pool. "We're looking at a 10-year arrangement and we're definitely getting close to a deal," he said.
   If that deal goes through, it won't help other swim groups and Bret Williams wonders if progress can be made at this late date to keep the Northshore Pool open.
   "Right now we've reached a critical moment to save the Northshore Pool and things need to happen quickly. We're hoping for a quick solution."
   For further information on how to help save the Northshore Pool, visit www.waveaquatics.org.