Campus Pool Closure a Splash in Swimmers' Eyes

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The serenity of Strawberry Canyon was shattered yesterday as community members vented their frustrations about UC Berkeley's decision to close some of its pools for six months.

The pools at Strawberry Canyon Recreation Area will be closed from October to April because of renovations to the area's fitness center. The renovations include rebuilding the roof over the weight rooms and remodeling locker rooms.

Although the pools are not going to be renovated, they will be closed to reduce costs, a letter to pool members from university officials stated.

Pool employees, students, faculty and senior citizens who use the pool for daily exercise said the university ignored them in the decision to close the pool.

"When the university wants to save money they cut all things which are not glamorous," said pool member Viki Tamaradze, one of the petitioners who gathered at Strawberry Canyon yesterday. "You don't just cut services for the entire community."

Pool members are circulating a petition to try to create a compromise that would allow members of Strawberry Canyon to swim for at least a portion of the time it will take to renovate the facilities.

The petition asks for access to the pools during renovations to the gym and suggests allowing swimmers to enter through a different entrance, change in tents and use portable toilets.

The petition also accuses the university of "breaching their contract" because the Strawberry Canyon Recreation Area brochure says members have yearlong access to four pools.

Pool members already have access to Speiker, Hearst North and Golden Bear pools, which they can use during the renovations.

But many pool members said the offer is not sufficient because the hours at Speiker and Hearst North pools are limited, parking can be difficult and classes and team sports often require full use of the pools, further limiting access to recreational users.

The problem of overcrowding at the remaining UC Berkeley pools may worsen because of the need to accommodate the popular swim group Strawberry Canyon Aquatic Masters and the closing of many city pools during the winter.

All UC Berkeley pools will also close during the university's winter break, a period during which the Strawberry Canyon pools have been the only UC Berkeley pools available.

The renovations could also affect UC Berkeley pool employee hours, which may be cut by more than half, causing many workers to scramble in search of a new job.

The employees work at all four UC Berkeley pools, but many said Strawberry Canyon is their pool of choice.

"This is one of the best pools to work at," said lifeguard Nina Hernandez. "There's parking, and we can take breaks."

Lifeguards at the Strawberry Canyon pools also said they like its "laid back" atmosphere.

"There are a lot of regulars here, and we get to know them and have conversations with them," said lifeguard Rachel Suits.

Members said they plan to attend tomorrow's Berkeley City Council meeting carrying signs, while wearing goggles and bathing suits.

"We may not win the war, but at least we're winning something," said UC Berkeley faculty member Greg Sinclair.

University officials declined to comment on the pools' closure.


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