Parents advocate for a district pool for San Dieguito’s aquatics athletes

San Dieguito Academy and Torrey Pines High aquatics athletes practice at The Boys & Girls Club at Solana Beach.

A recent pool development study estimated that it would cost San Dieguito Union High School District $10.7 million to build a swimming pool on the La Costa Canyon High School campus.

The study, presented to the board at its Nov. 19 meeting, provided the district with in-depth information on the construction and operating costs of a pool—the next step would be getting it into the district’s overall master plan and identifying funding.

The district has 10 schools with over 13,000 students, over 500 aquatics athletes and no pools. Since 2014, the parent-led SDUHSD Aquatics Committee has been advocating for building a district pool or pools to support high school aquatics programs of swimming, diving and water polo, as well as support physical education for all students and community programs.

“Aquatics is more than a hobby or a sport in North County San Diego. Aquatics saves lives,” wrote Heather Reider, an Encinitas parent, in a letter to the board. “The pool feasibility report presented is a great starting point. We need the pools in the master plan…A pool is a facility that adds exponential value to the education of our children.”

Back in 2017, the committee provided the board with architectural plans for all four high school sites as well as financing ideas and letters of interest from community partners who were interested in helping to manage and finance pools. In June 2019 the board directed staff to explore the feasibility of aquatics facilities in the district, hiring Aquatic Design Group and Green Play to study an aquatics center at La Costa Canyon.

Every school team in the district has to rent lanes for practices, matches or meets. LCC rents lanes for water polo and swimming at the Magdalena Ecke Family YMCA in Encinitas and rents dive time for divers at Alga Norte Aquatic Center in Carlsbad.

Per the study, La Costa Canyon’s annual pool rental cost is $33,388 and increases every year. With three other high schools renting lanes, the overall annual expense for the district is significant.

Torrey Pines High and San Dieguito Academy teams rent lanes at The Boys & Girls Club of Solana Beach. Canyon Crest Academy rents the pool at Cathedral Catholic High School and Torrey Pines water polo players typically travel to University of California San Diego for practices. During the pandemic, they have secured early morning pool time at Poway Unified’s Westview High School.

As Reider said, “All four schools are at the mercy of the facilities where they rent.” That means many early morning and late evenings—LCC is renting lanes sometimes until 9:15 p.m.

“Having water polo practices at 5:30 a.m. because that’s the only time CCHS was giving us was brutal for both kids and parents,” said Canyon Crest Academy parent Marina Poberezkin. While one of Carolyn Lee’s daughters toughed out the 5 a.m. CCA swim team workouts, her other daughter ended up dropping off both swimming and water polo teams entirely due to workout times she could not handle along with her school schedule.

Dennis Berkshire, a principal at Aquatic Design Group, said the preliminary consensus for San Dieguito would be a 35-meter-long by 25-yard-wide pool, with room for 14 lanes to accommodate a variety of uses. As California Building Code requires a public swimming pool to have a minimum number of restrooms, the study assumed an accompanying 5,965-square-foot building that could house restrooms, lockers, showers, inclusive changing rooms, coach’s offices, storage and equipment rooms.

Should SDUHSD opt not to open the pool to the community, a pool support building could be a minimum on pool mechanical space, chemical space, indoor equipment storage and a convenience bathroom of about 1,500 square feet. The students would then use gymnasium bathrooms.

The report projected that if the facility could be open for minimum or maximum community use hours with full and part-time lifeguards or other staff, there could be annual expenses of $747,620 to $1,030,371 and revenues ranging from $510,500 to $540,790. Green Play’s operational study showed a variety of local groups who would have interest in using the facility including Encinitas Junior Lifeguards, San Dieguito Synchro, Moonlight Beach Water Polo, Carlsbad Water Polo and more.

To run a pool just for high school programs with no community use and staff required, expenses would be about $182,061 with no projected revenue.

Utility costs in all scenarios would run about $115,890.

While the LCC pool would greatly benefit the north area students, outgoing SDUHSD trustee Joyce Dalessandro questioned why there were no considerations for another site that could serve southern area students. John Addleman, executive director of planning services, said they selected the LCC campus as it was the one with the most hypotheticals: the information provided in terms of construction and operating costs would be very similar in expectations if it was built at Torrey Pines or Canyon Crest Academy.

During non-agenda public comment, parent Suzanne von Thaden said she was happy that the pool had made it onto the agenda but had hoped the SDUHSD Aquatics Committee would have been able to have further input on the study and see a draft before it was presented to the board.

“Apparently the study has been finished since August 2020 and the committee was not alerted to this fact. While I feel the ADG and Green Play third party vendors completed a good report for the district, unfortunately the study lacks a general conclusion about an aquatics facility in our district,” von Thaden said.

von Thaden said the report did not mention that the California Educational Code requires aquatic instruction, undervalued the operations revenue and did not mention fundraising opportunities to help offset costs.

“It’s also too bad that the 28-acre San Dieguito sports park was not the pilot site. It is optimal for an aquatic facility,” von Thaden said. “Remember we have 500-plus aquatic athletes, more than any other sport in our district. These questions lead me to mourn how much more robust and valuable the development study would have been with active participation from our committee.”

The San Dieguito sports complex, also known as the La Costa Valley fields on Calle Barcelona in Carlsbad, was also not included in the committee’s 2017 conceptual plans as the then-superintendent told them it was being reserved for a future middle school. In 2016, the district renovated the vacant property using Prop AA funds to serve the district’s athletic program needs and provide a community resource.

Prior to the Nov. 19 meeting, SDUHSD Aquatics Committee member Lucile Lynch expressed frustration that committee members were not given a chance to provide public comment on the item. Lynch was told that because the board was not taking action, no public comment was being allowed specifically on that item and it must be addressed during general public comment time. Lynch said she believes this to be a violation of the Brown Act as the board’s new practice is that they randomly select 10 speakers to speak during general comment and there is no guarantee that a single speaker may be heard on an item.

SDUHSD Vice President Mo Muir echoed some of Lynch’s concerns at the board meeting.

“We should have had the pool committee here. They have studied it, they know what the needs are and they’ve been at this for a long time,” Muir said. “I’m disappointed and I think we should have had their comments tonight.”

SDUHSD Superintendent Robert Haley said this is just the starting point. As the district does not have $11 million identified for this project, the district can now schedule more meetings with committee members to discuss the pool and work toward adding it to the master plan. Lynch has suggested the district form a standing committee for pool exploration so the discussion can continue in a public and transparent manner.