Administrators at Ocean View High School plan to rent their Olympic-sized swimming pool to more groups after some in the community complained that the school had shown favoritism by supporting a club for which its aquatics director serves as a coach.
FOR THE RECORD: The March 8 story “More groups to get access to school pool” should have stated that the Olympic-sized swimming pool at Ocean View High School was funded through Certificates of Participation, a debt-instrument program used by school districts to finance facilities improvements.
Since the pool's opening in fall 2010, the OC Riptide Aquatics Club has been the only nonschool-related group to use it for practice. The club, which accepts members from Ocean View and other local schools, includes Melissa Fernandez, the head of Ocean View's aquatic programs, among its staff.
That hasn't set well with some people who view Riptide's use of the pool as a sweetheart deal. Some also raised their eyebrows over a water polo tournament held at the Ocean View pool in February in which organizers used the facility for free in exchange for waiving fees for Riptide members who attended Ocean View.
On Feb. 24, a group of parents met with Ocean View Principal Dan Bryan and other school and district staff. After the meeting, Bryan said the district hopes to expand use of the pool to other groups.
He denied, though, that Riptide received any treatment that would not have been granted to another club.
"From my point of view, all we were interested in doing was making sure we had an opportunity for our students to swim," Bryan said.
Riptide pays the standard youth nonprofit rate for hourly use of the pool — $52.44 during the school year, $73.41 during the summer, according to Assistant Superintendent of Business Services, Carrie Womack.
Regarding the Winterfest Water Polo Tournament in February, Fernandez and Athletic Director Tim Walsh confirmed that the organizers struck a deal regarding entry fees. Walsh, though, said such arrangements were standard practice in the district.
Organizers for Winterfest could not be reached for comment.
Fernandez, who co-founded Riptide, said assertions of favoritism toward the squad came as a shock.
"It definitely surprised me," Fernandez said. "I wasn't aware of this going on until just a couple of days ago."
Eric Benson, the leader of the nonprofit Huntington Beach Water Polo Club, said he offered the district close to $10,000 a month to use the Ocean View pool but was turned down. Parent Jack Stephens, who has a daughter in the club, said he found the choice puzzling, considering that the extra revenues would have benefited Ocean View during a tough budgetary time.
"It is, essentially, like stealing money from the school district," he said.
Womack and Bryan both said they had heard of no such offer from Benson's club. Bryan, however, said the amount offered was irrelevant, since the district has to charge every applicant the same fee.
It's common practice for groups to offer to pay more to use high school facilities, but the selection doesn't work like a bidding process, he said.
Ultimately, administrators chose Riptide because it offered both swimming and water polo and accepted Ocean View students, according to Bryan.
"We wanted to get our aquatics program going, and part of that was interest from outside groups," he said. "We thought Riptide was good for the Ocean View community."
Stephens, though, said Riptide's lack of experience made it a questionable choice.
"Ninety-nine out of 100 people would say the clear reason they picked it is because she's the coach at the school," he said.
Riptide, which formed last summer, trains elementary-through college-age athletes in swimming and water polo. The club typically holds practice every weekday evening as well as on Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The 50-meter pool was paid for by Measure C bond money. Until officials broke ground on it in September 2009, Ocean View had been the only school in the district without a pool.
Regardless of Riptide's use of the facility, the aquatics directors at Edison, Marina and Fountain Valley high schools said they'd had no problems reserving the pool for water polo practice or games.
"There have been rumblings here and there," said Edison Athletic Director Rich Boyce, referring to the parent complaints. "But any time we've asked, they've been gracious and let us use the pool."