A group of parents from three Huntington Beach Unified High School District schools are fighting for new swimming pools to counter student injuries and their water-polo-game-playing restrictions as a result of out-dated pools.
The parents say pools at Edison, Marina and Fountain Valley High Schools, which are all at least 40 years old, are "dangerously" shallow, are not accessible for American with Disabilities Act standards and not the correct size to play water polo.
"The pools aren't meeting the needs of our students and our community," said JoEllen Pendergraft, an Edison parent. "They haven't been for decades."
Those who dive into the three-foot to four-and-a-half-foot pools have often hit their heads on the bottom, resulting in injuries like whip lash, headaches, cuts and scrapes, said Gary Belek, whose sons play water polo at Marina.
Pools for water polo competition should be at least six or seven feet deep, experts say.
Students also cannot compete in home water polo games at their own schools because of the shallow depths. Instead, students from the three schools must play at campuses like Newport Harbor High School, which brings a "lack of school spirit" when it comes to the sport, Pendergraft said.
Parents also fear the bottoms of the pools will rise up from the ground like a similar pool at Westminster High School, which is also within the district, earlier this year.
That pool has since been condemned, and the district is currently working to replace it, said Owen Crosby, assistant superintendent.
"They're all at risk for that same thing happening," said Deryl Robinson, a parent of former Edison swimmers who has been working for 10 years for a new pool at the school. "That has kind of made this into an emergency."
Booster clubs from the high schools have worked to raise money over the years for the new pools but are looking to the school district for additional financial support.
Kathy Erikson, Fountain Valley Booster president, said the club has installed a new scoreboard, put in new fencing and performed some cosmetic repairs but doesn't have enough money for the major reconstruction.
Ideally, the parents would like to see all the pools get renovated at the same time, rather than one or two at a time, citing rare opportunities for funding.
"If we just do two now, the other two are going to be waiting a long time," Robinson said.
About $20 million is needed to update all three pools, the district estimates, but the money isn't there, Crosby said.
"The HBUHSD prides itself on providing a first-class education to its students and understands the importance that outstanding facilities play in that education," he said in an email. "We are excited to be able to build a new aquatic center at [Westminster], but also understand our need for additional pool renovations at three of our other sites that have 30-year old pools."
He said the district is currently applying for grants, including one for $10 million, to help fund the updates.
The school pools are also leased to the city for community swimming lessons during the summer, said Councilmember Erik Peterson.
Pendergraft believes the city could see a positive financial impact from local hotels and businesses if the renovations are made. If the schools host national water polo and swimming tournaments, visitors will spend money in the city, she argued.
City officials have also heard the pleas from the parents for help, but also say there is no money in the city's budget for the renovations.
Peterson, whose son plays water polo at Marina, said he and fellow Councilmember Jill Hardy, who teaches math at Marina, are writing letters to coincide with the district's grant requests.
Greg Angelovic, whose sons swim at Edison, said he wishes the water sports were treated like other sports in the district.
"I would just say with the more traditional sports like football, basketball and baseball, no one would ever put up with conditions like this," he said.
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