Possible Willard Pool Closure Sparks Support Movement

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Discontented swimmers met last night to hear the city's rationale behind the possible closure of Willard Pool.

The Willard Pool Swimmers Association met with the Berkeley Parks, Recreation and Waterfront Department to reach a compromise between the city and the association before Berkeley City Council members vote on a recommendation to close the pool.

The City Council may decide later this month to close Willard Pool, a public pool in South Berkeley, for five months because of low usage and high maintenance costs.

Community members said the pool has been unfairly targeted as a budget cut.

Karen Davis, head of the Willard Swimmers Association, said the closure in part reflected the city's failure to reach out to South Berkeley.

"South Berkeley is not perceived to have loyalty to city services," Davis said. "But if there is no outreach, there are no programs for us to sign up for, so who would know who we are?"

Willard Pool has been open year-round for the past six years, but Berkeley parks commissioners said the pool's popularity, particularly during the winter months, has been low.

"It's unfortunate that we've had to close any of the pools," said Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio. "But the usage for Willard is the lowest. It's extremely expensive per person. Our long-range plan is to figure out how to keep it open."

Davis, however, said the year-round availability of Willard Pool was "never publicized," which may account for its low usage.

"The pool has been underfunded," Davis said. "But there are alternatives that aren't being considered."

Davis also said that "finances concerning the pool have been poorly kept."

"A lot of faulty accounting has been going on," Davis said. "If (the city) actually did their accounting, they would see that Willard is actually doing very well."

Parks department representatives said there has been inaccurate accounting of costs between the city and Willard Junior High, which houses the pool.

The school and city plan to meet in January to discuss money discrepancies, representatives said.

Participants at the meeting suggested recruiting more swimmers during the winter, increasing the number of programs offered at Willard and improving the pool's appearance to help prevent its closure.

Ideas generated at yesterday's meeting will be discussed at the Oct. 15 City Council meeting, when council members may also vote upon the fate of the pool, said City Manager Weldon Rucker.

"Swimmers know the city's not rich, but if you drum up public support and do your books right, we know that it's not this pool that would close," Davis said.

Even with the community's effort, Davis said she is not optimistic about the possibility of the pool being open for the winter.

But Worthington said because it is an election year, council members may change their views to increase appeal to the voters.

"Most of the council will go along with (keeping the pool open)," Worthington said. "Some people feel that some parts of Berkeley get more attention and more money than others."

As a final effort, the Willard Swimmers Association will sponsor October Swim Fest later this month.

Participants at the swim fest will pay the standard pool admission, and Davis said she hopes the event will prove that there is interest in the pool.

"We have a lot of ideas and are doing a public event to show that we have energy," Davis said.


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