City Council says pool to remain closed for now

Calling the prospect impractical on several fronts, the Piedmont City Council Monday night decided not to reopen the broken-down yet beloved old community pool — at least for now.

The extent of repairs needed, the difficulty of hiring staff, and the fact Alameda County COVID-19-related restrictions would significantly limit the number of people in the pool at any given time helped convince all five council members to concur with a city staff report recommending the pool not reopen at this point.

“If we all had our druthers … our pool would be open and filled with people,” Vice Mayor Teddy Gray King said Tuesday night. “But as much as we wish (normal) was the case, it’s not the case.”

Councilman Tim Rood said another factor is the fate of ballot Measure UU, which will ask Piedmont voters in November to decide whether to approve funding a completely new swimming pool complex through a $19 million bond issue to pay for a large, deep competition and lap pool, a much smaller recreational pool and a two-story building housing showers, locker rooms and multi-use space. With the fate of Measure UU known by early November, Rood said, future planning can move ahead more effectively.

There was no formal council vote on this issue Tuesday night, but all five council members agreed Monday night that, despite the pool’s prominent place in the city’s fabric, the timing to reopen the pool is not right. That was also the conclusion of a city staff report that recommended the pool not be reopened.

“Given the pool’s current state of disrepair (including a nonfunctional heater), COVID-19 restrictions which severely limit the number of swimmers who would be allowed in the facility, and significant staffing challenges, staff has determined that it is not feasible to reopen the pool at this time,” a city report says. 

The old pool’s physical problems include leakage of about  3,000 gallons a day. A report earlier this year said the city could spend more than $4 million over the next 10 years to keep the pool “marginally functional.”

The 56-year-old Piedmont Community Pool has been closed since March 16 because public swimming pools had to close under COVID-19-related shelter-in-place orders. Before that, City Administrator Sara Lillevand said, the pool “had been barely hanging on.”

Chelle Putzer, Piedmont’s recreation director, told the City Council Tuesday that COVID-19 distancing requirements would mean only 10 people could be in the main pool at any given time. The difficulty of hiring lifeguards and other staff with school in session make reopening the pool even less practical, she said. 

Long before that mandatory closure came down, the Piedmont Swim Club and, since 2011, the City of Piedmont worked hard to keep a pool with myriad structural and mechanical issues going for the city’s dedicated cadre of recreational swimmers, and for the Piedmont High School water sports teams that have used it for practice and for matches.

Even so, a city report says, the pool had 25 unplanned closure days in 2019 and into 2020, owing to mechanical or other issues. The baby pool was closed three different times for a total of 33 days this past year, the city report says.

“The pool is becoming less able to serve the needs of the community while simultaneously becoming more expensive to operate every year,” the report says.

Council members stressed that Tuesday’s decision not to reopen the pool now is not a final word on the pool’s fate. “Things can change, subject to a number of variables,” Mayor Robert McBain said. 

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