Winter Will Be Kind for Patrons of West Campus Swim Center

Wendy Lee covers the City Council. E-mail her at [email protected].





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Over 100 senior citizens and young swimmers packed the City Council chambers Tuesday, wearing beach towels, swimwear and goggles. They lifted their swimming caps to the City Council after its unanimous decision Tuesday to keep the West Campus Swim Center open during the winter months.

Pool advocates had approximately 700 signatures urging the council to keep the pools open.

West Campus and Willard Swim centers were originally set to close by Nov. 1 and reopen Apr. 15 to help alleviate budget cuts because of the lack of swimmers.

The council deferred its initial decision to close the Willard Swim Center during the winter until October.

Swimming advocates said they were pleased with the council's decision, including their consideration of the Willard Swim Center.

But Lisa Caronna, director of Parks Recreation and Waterfront, said closing the Willard Swim Center during the winter would be necessary because of increased pool heating costs.

Mayor Shirley Dean, who supported the swimmers, asked city staff to look into the cost of putting solar heating panels for the pools.

"I would like to see all pools kept open," Dean said. "I don't want it to be an empty promise."

The cost of keeping both the West Campus pool and Willard pool open would be $75,100.

"Clearly, we're spending an awful lot of money," said Councilmember Linda Maio.

Caronna said the cost to keep Willard pool open in the winter would amount to $27 per visit, as opposed to $4 in the summertime.

Currently, the cost for senior citizens to swim in the pools is $1.50 per visit. It is free for seniors who are a part of the city's senior program.

The council will be organizing a subcommittee of swimming advocates that will brainstorm ways to garner more swimmers for the open pools to help offset the costs.

The council voted to increase the total user fees for the Bears Swim Club, whose members swim in the city pools, by $10,000.

The Bears Swim Club is a youth organization that has over 120 members who are organized into teams that compete against other city clubs.

Bears Swim Club Assistant Coach Rick Arnason said the team already increased user fees by 10 percent in preparation for the council's ruling.

"It would be nice if we didn't have to (increase fees), but we will do it if that's what it takes to (stay) here," Arnason said.

If the Berkeley pools are closed, Arnason said, it may cause a loss of revenue for swimming scholarships for his club members and fewer local swimmers.

Berkeley swimmer Jean Johnson said the closure of the pools was "unfair" because the city gives its own employees a 75 percent discount to swim at the YMCA.

"When the city says 'I'm sorry there will be no senior swim team' and the city and recreational leaders can swim at (discounts at) the YMCA, something is wrong," Johnson said.

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said the combination of seniors and youth at the meeting "pulled at the heartstrings" of the council members.

Several City Council members said they would like to see the senior aerobics program in action.

Gary Herbertson, a frequent user of Berkeley swimming pools, said he welcomes them.

"We laugh, sing and dance," Herbertson said of the senior aerobics program. "It looks like we have more than water to drink."

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