RACINE — Racine Unified officials are looking at several options for replacing the pool at Case High School, including a larger facility that could serve other schools once their aging pools become unusable.
In August, just before the start of the girls swimming season, the Case pool was put out of commission. The pool, which dates to the opening of the school in 1966, has thinning aluminum walls and leaks that make it unsafe for swimming.
After backlash from some in the historically successful Case swimming community, the district dedicated $8.2 million for a new facility, but until the architectural firm creates a plan, the actual cost is unknown.
The district put out a request for proposals for a pool project architect, and has narrowed a field of six bidders down to one. Unified administrators plan to propose that firm to the School Board during the board’s next meeting, on March 18.
Planning for the future
During Monday’s School Board work session, Unified Chief Operating Officer Shannon Gordon told board members that the administration has no plans at this time to close any existing pool facilities beyond the one at Case. However, she said, the district will ask the architecture firm to look into the creation of a facility that could serve district students in addition to those at Case, as well as the wider community. The architect also will be tasked with developing a business plan that will detail how operation of the pools will impact the district’s finances in the long-term.
It is just as important for the district to know long-term operating costs of a new pool or aquatic facility, Gordon said, as it is for Unified to know the cost of construction.
The district has operational pools at Park and Horlick high schools as well as at Wadewitz Elementary School. All of them are more than 50 years old.
“Our pools are nearing or (have) exceeded life expectancy,” Gordon said.
The district will get to a point in the future, she said, when it will not be able to make repairs to its pools and will have to decide whether or not to replace them.
“The cost of operating the pools is very significant,” Gordon said.
For example, she noted that keeping the Case pool closed this year has saved the district $250,000 in utility costs.
The existing pools are grandfathered into Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association regulations for competition. But if the pools were modified, they would need to be brought up to current standards, which would be possible to do in the current pool space at Park, but not at Horlick or Case.
“The age of our current pools make replacing and repairing in place difficult,” Gordon said.
Gordon said that the condition with the Case pool is not unique, and the same situation is possible at the district’s other pools.
Wadewitz has a warm water pool for therapeutic purposes, as the school has a high number of special needs students who use it. But competition pools, like the ones at the high schools are “cold water.” The district’s request for proposals includes both a warm and cold water pool.
School Board members Julie McKenna and Jane Barbian on Monday both expressed concern about a plan that would include the high schools sharing a pool facility.
McKenna wondered if sharing would be detrimental to the district’s successful swim programs. And Barbian asked if the cost of busing students to a shared facility, as well as related logistics, would make a shared facility worth the cost.
District Superintendent Eric Gallien reassured the board that no facility decisions have been made. The administration wants to bring as much information to the board as possible when it comes to planning for future pool use, he said. The board will ultimately make the final decision on what kind of facility to construct.