By JENNIFER MEIER
It’s old. It’s falling apart. But most parents, students and community members don’t want to see the doors to the Northridge Middle School Pool closed forever.
The pool is well used and has allowed Middlebury Community Schools to expand and add new curricular programming and extra-curricular activities for both its students and the community.
Ever since the opening of the state-of-the-pool at the new Northridge High School in 2009, the fate of the old pool, with its failing equipment, has often been the topic of discussion. On Tuesday night after months of meetings and information gathering, MCS personnel under the leadership of Superintendent Jane Allen, put together a PowerPoint presentation to inform the public on two possible options for the aging pool.
Approximately 80 people attended the first of two informational meetings held at the middle school auditorium. The second meeting, a repeat of the first, will be held at 6 p.m., Jan. 22.
“In 2011, the school board requested a complete report of the options available to us with this space from SCO Engineering LLC,” Allen said. “The purpose was to compare the cost of replacing all of the pool equipment including the lockers as well as the HVAC — the heating, air-conditioning, and dehumidification with the cost of closing the pool.”
Closing, or warehousing the pool includes filling in the pool, making it safe and reusable for another purpose. Some possible uses for the area include additional classrooms or storage.
The engineering firm came up with a cost of $652,800 to renovate the pool and a cost of $685,500 to warehouse the space. The numbers, however, do not reflect the projected annual operating costs of keeping the pool open. Those costs, which include HVAC and chemical supplies, maintenance and custodial work, personnel, salary and benefits add up to $151,762.
The estimated annual cost to upkeep a repurposed area would be $9,946.
“Those are just possible costs. We can purchase an $89,000 pool cover, which would save us approximately $15,000 each year in operating costs,” Allen said. “And there are other things we can do. The Northridge Area Swim Association has done an excellent job of finding ways to help with the operating cost through events and invitationals. We are blessed to have an organization that works so hard. But it still leaves us with at least a $100,000 difference.”
Since 2009, NASA has contributed approximately $29,850 toward the pool’s operating expenses.
Even with an unbudgeted $47,369 cost of a six-week pool shutdown in November to replace delaminated tiles and the more recent replacement of two pumps, Allen said the school system can still maintain the pool for the time being.
“Although we’ve had to borrow from other funds to pay for this, it’s not something we can’t handle right now,” Allen said. “The school board and Mr. Conner, the previous superintendent, have done a wonderful job of planning ahead.”
But because of the current tax cap on capital projects, Allen explained, there is no money to pay for either a renovation or a closure.
“We do have the option of doing a General Obligation Bond — with a maximum allowable of $2 million,” Allen said. “We can take care of it for that amount.”
Keeping the middle school pool open since 2009 has allowed MCS to expand and add new programs for both students and the community.
“We have a lot of things that are available for our community and students because of having two pools. People are certainly envious of our area,” Allen said. “We have things going on all the time.”
The second pool allows MCS to offer morning and evening lap swims, water aerobics and year-round swim lessons for the community. The facility is also used for an aqua arthritis class, which began using the NMS pool when Goshen College closed its pool.
In addition, the second pool offers ease of scheduling for the NMS Swim Team, the Northridge High School Diving Team practice, NASA practice and events, and the Starz Diving Club.
During school hours, the pool is used for NMS physical education classes, middle school functional skills classes and health and wellness classes. Heritage Intermediate School students use the pool for their functional skills classes as well as a program that teaches fourth-graders how to swim or improve their swim skills.
“Pool activities don’t slow down in the summer,” Allen said. “We’ve totaled up the exact number of people in the pool from January through November. We call those ‘splashes.’ We’ve had 16,500 splashes during that time. That’s a lot!”
If the pool closes, Allen said the middle school physical education, functional skills and health and wellness classes would no longer have pool time.
“There is no way the high school can accommodate these classes,” Allen said. “We also would not be able to provide year-round swim lessons. We would lose the evening lap swim and the Aqua Arthritis class.”
Scheduling for the NMS Swim Team, NASA, water aerobics and other programs including Northridge High School Sport and Recreation classes, life guarding certification and ninth grade physical education would be difficult and inconvenient for parents and students said. Allen.
In order for all comments to be heard and all questions to be answered, Allen asked that the community send comments and questions in an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or in writing to MCS School Board, 56853 Northridge Drive, Middlebury, 46540.
“It may seem a little unconventional, but the purpose for that is that we want everybody to see the questions, and the comments and read the responses on the school website. We will also post the most frequently asked questions and their answers,” Allen said. “This is a public school and a public school facility used by the community, students and staff and that’s why we have to have everybody’s input. If we don’t have that input, we are not doing our jobs.”
Allen said the information gathered, the comments and the questions will be reviewed by the school board and used to inform their decision making.
“I can’t really say when the decision will be made, but I can say the school board agenda may reflect this issue in their agenda in the next few months,” Allen said. “And through the website everyone will know when that’s happening and can be a part of those meetings.”
After the 45-minute meeting, parents and community members gathered in small groups to discuss what they’d just heard.
“Ultimately, I’d like to see the middle school pool stay open based on the curricular numbers that we show,” said Amy Flager, whose son Austin is standout senior on the high school swim team. “My son started out in the swim lesson program and was a part of NASA starting in the seventh grade. He’s been accepted to Purdue on swimming scholarship. It shows that this pool and the programs pay off.”
Flager said she feels the PowerPoint program was helpful.
“Unfortunaltey I think it’s going to come down to basic numbers. It’s a lot to keep the pool open, but I think in the end it’s well worth it,” Flager said.
Jim Fogle, whose daughter Emerson is in the sixth grade would also like to see the door remain open.
“I was a little disappointed. I feel that some of the information was inaccurate. I like to see the numbers broken down a little bit more,” Fogle said. “I would also like to see the pool stay open. It’s getting a lot of use and there are more options to get even more use. We could open it up to LaGrange County for swim lessons. I think there are ways to increase activities and the dollars to save it.”
Judy Stoller, whose oldest son Nathaniel graduated from Northridge is on a swim scholarship at Grand Valley State University and whose youngest son, Jonathon is also a standout swimmer on the high school team has begun thinking of ways to keep the pool doors open.
“It may be possible to form a ‘Friends of the Pool’ group to work with fundraising ideas to help offset costs,” Stoller said. “All these different programs have helped to develop good friendships, have taught the kids about hard work and goal setting. A lot of positive things have come out of the strong swim programs and the second pools helps to ensure that will continue. It seems doable to me.”