Puyallup: Sumner

Pending closure of Sumner High School pool sparks concern from community

Sumner High’s swim and dive teams would be displaced with the closure of the pool, but district officials are in the midst of searching for alternative sites for the teams to practice.
Sumner High’s swim and dive teams would be displaced with the closure of the pool, but district officials are in the midst of searching for alternative sites for the teams to practice. jbessex@gateline.com

The 50-year life span of the pool at Sumner High School is coming to an end next year, when the building will be demolished and replaced with a parking lot amid other renovations at the school.

The plan for closing the pool has been in the making for around 20 years, said Debbie Campbell, chief financial officer for the Sumner School District.

“It’s not a new plan,” Campbell said. “A pool is a nice thing to have, but when it starts dying it’s a big item to replace.”

The pool, which was built in the 1960s, has seen wear and tear over time, Campbell said — especially when it comes to the pool’s boiler, which needs daily maintenance. Currently, it’s not able to provide hot water for the showers in the adjacent locker room.

In the 1990s, upkeep of the pool forced the district’s general fund to take a hit, with operating costs of more than $157,000 per year.

In response, the board created a long-range facilities plan to close the pool in August 2008. But when 2008 rolled around, there wasn’t an alternative option for a pool.

“There was no answer for a community pool,” Campbell said, “so the board said to keep it open as long as possible.”

But by then, operating costs were even higher, at $207,000 per year. In 2009, Bonney Lake and Sumner city councils voted down a district proposal to submit a taxable parks district initiative to voters for a remodel of the pool and support for its continued operation.

The district, as part of budget reductions, closed the pool off from the public in June 2011. A year later, Sumner Bonney Lake Aquatics (SBLA) leased the pool, which helped it to remain open for several more years. At this point, operating cost dipped to $17,565.

But after the Gordon Family YMCA opened last year, SBLA ended its lease agreement. An agreement with SBLA kept the pool maintained until February 2016, when voters approved a $146 million Capital Projects Bond, part of which renovates Sumner High School. As design development for the school progressed, the pool was replaced with parking spaces.

“When we remodel Sumner High School’s campus, code requirements include adding adequate parking,” Campbell said.

Currently, Sumner High School has 471 parking spots; the new design will increase that to 851.

The design, which was on display in the school library, caught the attention of the boys swim team. One parent was concerned about where her son, currently a freshman on the team, would go to practice after the pool closed when the swim season ended next year.

“(The pool) is a public benefit that is something we can’t easily replace,” said Emily Terrell.

The district said it has more options than it did in 2008, and proposed looking into using other pools in the community, including the one at the YMCA. Other cities — such as Puyallup, Auburn, Enumclaw and Federal Way — have pool possibilities, along with the Muckleshoot tribe and Pacific Lutheran University.

The district is assuring parents and students that swim teams will not be affected. If another pool is chosen, transportation and rent for allotted practice time will be covered.

“We have every intention of keeping swim teams going,” Campbell said.

If the district pursues a relationship with the YMCA, Terrell said she is concerned about spending money for a membership. The YMCA also doesn’t have diving tanks, blocks or timers, she added.

“It’s over $100 a month for three of us — we just can’t do it,” she said. “The Y is expensive, it’s full and it doesn’t have the same facilities.”

The district plans to reach out to alternative pools that do have the proper equipment, Campbell said. It’s also looking into possibly building a new pool in the future, according to district athletic director Tim Thomsen.

Terrell agrees that the pool needs to be updated, but is urging the district to come up with a plan sooner rather than later.

“If their plan is to replace the pool, they haven’t initiated anything to do that,” Terrell said.

“(Thomsen) will make a multiple menu of where we can go and he’ll present it to the school board with plenty of time,” Campbell said. “We’ll have a plan when it’s time to implement a plan.”

While the new design for Sumner High School is not finalized, the district is certain the pool will close. But parents, athletes and other community members have convened to discuss what to do about the pool.

“There’s a fairly large community of us that think this should not go away,” Terrell said. “We’ll have a presence at the district board meeting so we can point out how many people this affects.”

The district’s athletic department will hold an informational meeting at 5 p.m. Feb. 23 in the district’s board room to share short-term and long-term plans about finding an alternative location for the school’s aquatics programs.

Allison Needles: 253-256-7043, @herald_allison