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Public swimming pool idea gathers momentum in Newport Beach

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Contenders for the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard program tread water in the Corona del Mar High School pool during tryouts in 2015. The swimming pools at Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor high schools are the only public pools in Newport Beach and are split between school and community uses.
(File Photo)

Newport Beach took another stroke Tuesday toward building a public swimming pool.

The City Council tentatively backed the pool, which would be the only aquatics facility in town fully owned and operated by the city, and routed the project to the Parks, Beaches & Recreation Commission to consider a feasibility study and gather community input.

City officials have identified four open acres at Lower Castaways Park at Dover Drive and West Coast Highway as an ideal location for a 25-yard, eight- to 10-lane pool for swimming laps, year-round lessons, water fitness and therapy classes. The city currently gets pool time at Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor high schools, which also run student athletics programs.

Recreation and Senior Services Director Laura Detweiler said a pool would be well-used, as demand outpaces supply.

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“We have a very popular learn-to-swim program for all ages and abilities, and we struggle to get time within those two pools to try to accommodate those needs,” she said.

City staff estimates annual operating costs of the new pool at $900,000, with user-generated revenue covering $200,000 of that.

Construction costs are to be determined, but former mayor Evelyn Hart offered to marshal a group of colleagues from Friends of Oasis, which supports the Oasis Senior Center, to privately raise half the funds needed to build.

Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill said he was concerned about the $700,000 annual net cost — which Detweiler acknowledged is expensive — in addition to the construction price.

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“We have a queue right now waiting for projects” to be built, he said. “Just a handful of them: Lido fire station, Newport Beach Junior [Lifeguards] building, lecture hall, however much money we end up needing to spend to address homelessness in our community.”

Mike Zimmerman, president of the Friends of Oasis board, said Oasis has tried for years to get a pool for physical therapy on the senior center’s Corona del Mar campus but can’t find the room.

Zimmerman said the prospect of influential backers makes him optimistic that money is there for a pool.

“I appreciate Will’s thoughts and concerns, but I do think with the likes of our community ... that we can finally make this dream happen,” he said.

Mayor Diane Dixon encouraged the parks commission and staff to consider additional sites but noted that Lower Castaways Park, centrally located on a high-profile parcel, is underused.

The council voted 6-0, with member Kevin Muldoon absent, to move ahead with a study.

The city Harbor Commission also will vet the project since Lower Castaways is waterfront property.

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