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Berkeley Swims to Save Its Swimming Pools

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday March 18, 2010 - 06:31:00 PM
A 24-hour swimathon is being held to raise funds for the Measure C campaign which seeks to rehabilitate and expand the city's pools.
Seth Goddard
A 24-hour swimathon is being held to raise funds for the Measure C campaign which seeks to rehabilitate and expand the city's pools.

Swim to save the swimming pools. That’s the unofficial motto of the Berkeley Pools Campaign at least for Friday, when they launch a 24-hour swimathon to raise funds to upgrade and expand the city’s pools. 

The Berkeley City Council recently voted to approve a $22.6 million pools ballot measure for the June 8 election, paving the way for campaign workers to start raising money for the big day. 

Friday’s swimathon will start at 6 a.m. and continue until 6 a.m. Saturday.  

It’s the biggest fundraiser for the campaign, expected to bring in $20,000, said Rob Collier, co-chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, which lobbied the City Council to approve the ballot measure. 

“We hope to raise more money to take us throughout May,” Collier said. “The campaign is going to be very expensive and we expect our opposition to be very well funded.” 

Campaign organizers will officially learn who their opponents are Friday, the last day to file ballot arguments. 

Collier said that the idea of a swimathon was born right after the council’s final vote. 

“There was so much enthusiasm that we had to do something with all that energy,” he said. “The best way to deal with charged up swimmers is to throw them in the pool.” 

Although the council had initially voted unanimously to approve a $19 million measure to renovate the city’s three existing public pools—King, Willard and West Campus—and build a new warm water pool at West Campus, it changed its vote at a Feb. 25 meeting when it agreed to include the construction of a new competition pool at King Middle School. 

The principal reason for the council’s change of mind was because of the outpouring of support for a new pool at King from the Berkeley Barracudas, a local competitive swim team which complained that the current facility was in dire need of an upgrade. The Masters team, which is mostly made up of older swimmers, also rallied for a new pool. 

“A larger pool will allow the Barracudas to train and grow,” Collier said. “So they are really gunning to go.” 

Even though a recent voter poll warned that citizens were not too keen to fund pool expansions in a desperate economy, the council reasoned that a new pool at King would garner wider support. 

Despite being popular with public pool users in Berkeley, the pools ballot measure has its share of critics, including councilmember Gordon Wozniak, who cautioned at a recent council meeting that taxing citizens during a difficult economy was probably not the wisest thing to do. Wozniak ultimately voted to support the measure with the rest of the council. 

Councilmember Kriss Worthington, who has been known to show up in his swimming trucks for other aquatics-centered fund raisers, said the ballot measure was critical to keep valuable resources alive for people of all age groups. 

“It’s exciting,” Worthington said of the swimathon. “I might be there.” 

Collier acknowledged that the pool’s campaign faced a tough road ahead, including a short window for raising funds, but maintained that it was the only way to save at least two of the city’s pools. 

“We have no choice,” he said. “The warm pool is closing next year and Willard Pool will close this year if the ballot measure doesn’t pass. So it’s now or never.” 

The Berkeley High School Old Gym, which houses the warm pool, is scheduled for demolition in 2011 to make room for a new classroom building. Although local preservationists rallied for adaptive reuse of the historic gym, their proposal was shot down. 

The City of Berkeley will close Willard Pool after summer unless a voter-approved bond measure can continue to fund it 

“Berkeley residents have made far-sighted investments where it counted,” Collier said. “In the 60s it was the underground BART, in the 70s it was our parks, in the 80s it was emergency services for the disabled and more recently it was support for our schools and libraries. Berkeley voters realize that pools are our community’s future, it’s our legacy to our children, our grandchildren an our great grandchildren.” 

Berkeley Pools Campaign co-chair Shelly Hayden said that each participant would have to pledge to swim for at least an hour for which they get a $100 minimum sponsorship. 

“As of tomorrow, when we get our official ballot letter, we need to start printing yard signs and brochures that we will distribute to the community as soon as possible,” said Hayden, who will be swimming for an hour and has already raised $300 from her sponsors. 

Anyone can sign up for the swimathon, either on or at King Pool, and slots are still available throughout the day. 

People can also get sponsors online or put their donations in an envelope at the site. 

“You an do anything you want in the water for that one hour,” Hayden said. “We just want you to move.” 

The Cal Men's Water Polo team is expected to do 3,000 meters in an hour, Hayden said. “But others can do 500, it doesn’t really matter.” 

For more information, please see the sign-up sheet at King Pool, or email