Pierce County’s third-largest school district covers more than 200 square miles, has three comprehensive high schools, three swim teams – and no swimming pools.
Bethel School District swim teams must travel to surrounding communities such as Eatonville to use the high school pool there. The nomadic swim program costs the district an estimated $20,000 a year.
And with pool time at a premium nearly everywhere, the Spanaway-based school district offers no boys swim teams – only girls teams at Bethel, Spanaway Lake and Graham-Kapowsin high schools. (Girls-only teams were started in the late 1990s to help ensure gender equity in high school sports.)
Now, the Bethel School Board is looking at possibly building a pool complex that would expand opportunities for students in all its schools. It also would offer programs for the whole community: families with pre-school children, senior citizens, swimmers with physical challenges, non-school competitive swim teams and more.
Lynn LePage, whose daughter is co-captain of the Spanaway Lake High School swim team, said a pool closer to home would make life easier on student athletes.
“Sometimes they don’t get home until 9:30,” she said. “And then there’s homework.”
Bellevue aquatic design consultant Don Carey presented a feasibility study to board members last week. His study claims that a school district aquatic center open to public use could generate enough revenue to be self-sustaining.
“The goal here is economic self-sufficiency,” he said.
Carey estimates that a Bethel community aquatic center that stayed open weekends could attract more than 290,000 public visits annually for lap swimming, public swim instruction, aquatic fitness classes and more.
“Sundays are one of the largest money-makers for pool rentals,” he said.
Carey described a center that would include a 50-meter main pool large enough to host competitive swim meets, a play pool, warm-water therapy pool, lazy river inner-tube course and water slides.
He said the facility would be designed so that many activities could take place at the same time.
The center also could rent pool time to community swim teams, home school groups and private birthday parties.
The estimated price tag: $14.5 million.
The school district has $12 million in unspent bond funds that could be used, according to district officials. The rest would have to be raised, possibly through donations or grants.
The district owns property across from Bethel Middle School, on 38th Avenue East, where a pool could be built.
Felicia Thomson lives nearby. She supports the idea of a pool but told board members last week that 38th Avenue already is too busy when school lets out each afternoon. She questioned whether the road could handle increased aquatic center traffic.
Elected board members aren’t exactly ready to dive in, either.
Board member Brenda Rogers pointed out that the district recently cut services such as librarians. She said she doesn’t want to jeopardize academics to build or maintain a pool.
“Our community really does want a swimming pool,” she said. “But they don’t want me to pay for it out of algebra classes.”
Rogers also questioned a first-year revenue-and-expense projection that shows the pool would barely break even.
Board member John Manning said he wants to first ask community members if they’re willing to pay more on a levy if pool revenue projections don’t pan out.
“There will not be one penny taken away from students,” he said, adding that he would rather see a pool shut down.
Carey, the district consultant, said he would recommend a community survey as a next step.
Board member Stanley Chapin said building the pool as a community resource would boost Bethel’s standing – important in a district that is sometimes perceived by the public as a “stepbrother” to neighboring districts.
“There isn’t anything like this in our part of the county,” Chapin said.
Rogers countered that “there are a number of things we don’t have in this part of the county. But the school district isn’t charged with bringing it here.”
School pools are the stuff of suburban legend in the Bethel district. Superintendent Tom Seigel said rumors have circulated for years that the district had promised – but never delivered – a pool in the basement of Spanaway Lake High School. The school doesn’t have a basement.
Seigel said there was a pool proposed on a ballot measure in the 1970s, but voters turned it down. In 2003, district officials talked about seeking corporate and foundation money to help build a pool, but ongoing maintenance costs were viewed as a major stumbling block.Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635