Students at Edison, Marina and Fountain Valley high schools may be able to dive into new pools within a few years after the Huntington Beach Union High School District board of trustees voted Tuesday night to request proposals from contractors.
The district estimates it will cost $12 million to replace the three pools, which are more than 50 years old. District officials have had to put off construction of new pools for years because they’re expensive and residents didn’t support funding the projects with a school bond, board President Duane Dishno said.
“I think the community will be very pleased that we are trying to get new pools at three of our schools,” Dishno said. “It’s a step forward and a long time coming.”
The district plans to pay for the construction through a lease-leaseback agreement that has become a popular way for California school districts to pay for new infrastructure. Typically, districts will lease a dilapidated facility for $1 per year to a contractor that fronts the project’s cost. The contractor recoups its money by collecting monthly lease payments from the district over several years.
Edison High’s pool is scheduled for completion in October 2020, Marina’s in October 2021 and Fountain Valley’s by September 2022.
A major flaw in the existing pools is that they are too shallow to meet water polo regulations. Edison water polo players must travel to Newport Harbor High School to compete or train in a pool where their feet don’t touch the bottom.
The shallow pool at Marina High is problematic for the swim team because students get scratched by the bottom of the pool while turning between laps. Swim coach Stephen Wright said the fear of injury makes swimmers more tentative about turning when they need to be focusing on their strokes and breathing.
Wright said it’s great to see the school board move forward with the construction plans, considering that the prospect of a new pool seemed dim when he started coaching at Marina nine years ago.
“They ask me every year, ‘When are we going to get a new pool?’” Wright said. “Actually getting it is going to be really exciting. It should be open for this year’s freshmen in their senior year.”
The preliminary design for each project calls for a new 33-meter pool, digital scoreboards, fencing and restroom improvements.
JoEllen Prendergraft got involved with the Edison Chargers Aquatics Complex nonprofit organization when her sons were on the school’s swim and water polo teams. She was frustrated that the team needed to compete for time to practice at Newport Harbor High. She watched some players leave the school district to attend schools with better pools.
“We just really appreciate [the district’s] willingness to get this project done finally because it’s something that has been pushed to the back burner for years because it’s so expensive,” Prendergraft said.
The benefits of a new pool will extend beyond Edison’s aquatic sports teams, she said. The school also hosts swim therapy for students with special needs, swim lessons, aquatic clubs and adult aquatics classes.
The nonprofit has raised $75,000 to help the district pay for bleachers, shade structures and elevator chairs for people with disabilities. There is a plan to recognize donors with tiles on a wall at the future pool. Prendergraft said anyone interested in contributing to the fundraising campaign can visit edisonaquaticscomplex.org.
“We’re trying to get back to our roots of being an aquatic city,” she said. “Our goal is for every kid to be a safe swimmer by the age of 3, and we just can’t do that without proper facilities.”
District officials incorporated into the request for contractors a plan for new batting cages at Huntington Beach High School. The $300,000 project will be funded by Huntington Beach High School boosters and is slated for completion by the end of September.
Baseball head coach Benji Medure said the team raised money the past two years through its golf tournament, poker nights and gifts from parents and other community members.
“We’re fortunate we live in a good area where people are stronger financially and they like supporting our program,” he said.
The construction plan includes replacing netting that is peppered with holes and building a roof over the batting cages to enable players to train when it rains. The Oilers currently visit Marina’s indoor facility when they’re rained out at home.
Daniel Langhorne is a contributor to Times Community News.