Swimming is our right.

In Alameda, swimming and access to a pool is practically an inherited right.  Think about it: the Franklin and Lincoln pools that were built in the 1950s by Mr. Weeden and Mr. Stolte on city land and are still maintained by ASPA (Alameda Swimming Pool Association) volunteers to this day so that all kids can learn to swim. Programs for Kindergartners and seniors are free to non-members.  And it’s not easy maintaining the pools (2 per site, one kiddie, one lap) and keeping the annual membership so low that most families can continue to afford to participate (under $400/year for each household). It’s really quite a gift and quite an inheritance for every Alameda resident. The pools are great family recreation and lap swimming pools, but they don’t even begin to hold muster when it comes to competitive swimming; they are abysmally obsolete.  As are our high school pools which need $4M in repairs…just to keep them pools open, just to repair the existing, highly substandard, pools.  And THAT makes no sense at all.

WHAT I WOULD LOVE TO SEE ON THE BALLOT THIS NOVEMBER:  a one-time tax of $100 per resident that would raise nearly $7M and deliver a new aquatic facility with a diving pool and a combined lap/waterpolo pool (or dare I dream, two pools? one for lap swimming and one for water polo?) and a green park surrounding for our community and for the East Bay. It would be a win-win all the way around: for our kids, our city, and our economy.  …

If you have any knowledge at all about age-group aquatics, the age-group bar has been raised.  HIGH.  And it’s AWESOME.

For a high school athlete to compete in the top of a field, s/he has to have started training in middle school (or earlier) to compete at the levels high school athletes do these days. They train hard before and after classes and train their one sport throughout the year through camps during school breaks and age-groups teams all summer. They compete locally between high schools and regionally at tournaments throughout the Bay Area and across the US and sometimes abroad. It’s grueling. What makes it worse: substandard facilities.  Pool standards for high school swimming competition have changed dramatically. Why? ‘Cause the kids can SWIM.  DIVE.  And man, have you seen them leg-up and make a shot on a goal in 8 feet of water while wrestling an opponent who’s grabbing their suit and dragging them down?  (If not, you really should get out and see a water polo game!)

Substandard facilities hold our kids back. Big time. Any fix to existing facilities is a bandaid and a disservice to our kids, their future, and our schools future.  There’s no way that $4M to bolster up a pool that will not meet contemporary competition standards and has ZERO potential to meet future standards, makes any sense at all.  And I’m 100% uncertain about spending roughly the same on two *new* pools, one for each high school. Those pools will serve today’s standards but not tomorrow’s. Yes, it would be ‘nice’, but does it make sense?  Twice, the Aquatic Design Group says “This 7,380 square foot pool will meet all of the program needs that the staff has identified.”  Yet nowhere is that list of what the program actually needs.  That information is critical to understanding this.  What type of events (games, tournaments) will each pool be able to support?  Are they too small for some kinds of tournaments? What type of competitive events are ruled out, can’t be hosted, by this size of pool?  I mean, it’s great to have a good training pool and meet/game pool.  But the greater good of the students and the greater community would be better served by a single, great tournament facility.

It’s far more cost-effective to build and, more importantly, maintain one quality aquatic center.  Why?  We can’t afford two aquatic centers that meet today’s competition needs but will need more money thrown at them later to accomodate tomorrow’s competition needs. But one facility, one good facility….what will that do for our youth? For our community?  I’ll make the list, but not without first saying that it’s too bad that the AUSD did not have the foresight (or the cajones) to combine the high schools at Encinal. One fabulous aquatic center there, makes sense.  That said, one fabulous city aquatic center that both schools can use for training, host games, and host tournaments, is actually a far better spend of money for our city in this economy. Why? Read on:

1. Student-athletes would train at a facility that meets current and future competition standards. Maybe a coach can weigh in here, but I’ve seen the difference in teams that have a good aquatic facility: there’s enough deep water so that every team can get enough time and space to train.  Moreever, it attracts better coaches who provide better training across more students, thereby creating better outcomes with well-rounded high school experiences and more college opportunities.

2. School and age-group teams can host games without compromising the level of competition.

3. School and age-group teams can host swimming/diving and waterpolo tournaments.  You know provide for multiple teams to compete in an all-day event?  Plenty of lanes for swim events AND diving at the same time?  Two deep-deep water polo fields for two games at once?  This raises the bar for everyone,  enhancing each student’s opportunities: better tournaments attract more teams which enhances the potential and broadens the life-experience for each student-athlete, mediocre and stellar alike.

4. College opportunities. Better athletes and better tournaments attract the college coaches >> it’s where they find next year’s starters and redshirts; it’s where our high school coaches maintain their relationships with college coaches, and those relationships are key so our high school coaches can advocate for their (our) students and help college coaches know where to look for a key player to round out their teams.

5. Regional Tournaments. There are no tournament-capable aquatic centers in the East Bay.  All regional age-group (youth and adult) Swim/Dive and Waterpolo tourneys as well as the Junior Olympics go to Orinda, South Bay/Peninsula and the North Bay; none are held in the East Bay.  But they would come here if we had the facility (I know, I’ve talked to the coaches around the bay): both the age-group and the adult swimming and waterpolo competitions would come to Alameda. That would benefit our youth and our city in so many ways.  For the price of two repaired and upgraded yet still substandard facilities, we could offer our youth best-quality training, competition, and opportunities right here in their hometown while improving our overall quality of life AND our economy.

6. One great facility would drive revenue for itself and enhance the economy:

a. Tournament fees, year ’round between high school seasons and age-group competitions (off-season)

b. Masters, year ’round

c. Lap Swimming, year ’round

d. Recreational Swimming, April through October

e. And just where to you think all those hungry visiting athletes and their parents and siblings will eat?!  Shop? Buy gas to get home?

Again: WHAT I WOULD LOVE TO SEE ON THE BALLOT THIS NOVEMBER:  a one-time tax of $100 per resident that would raise nearly $7M and deliver this for our community and for the East Bay. It would be a win-win all the way around, and god knows, the city has the 6 to 10 acres to allocate to this.

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About Denise Lai

Alive. Swim (fly is the best). Walking with my dog (weims are the best). Life is good. Would prefer people understood negative externalities and prevented themselves from creating them. Feeling the love anyway. View all posts by Denise Lai

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