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School district awaits report on pool while patrons try to find answers

School district awaits report on pool while patrons try to find answers

PHS swimming: Cassidy Freeman

Philomath High School sophomore Cassidy Freeman competes in the backstroke last season at Clemens Community Pool. The pool is closed to the public without a certified pool operator but is being used by the swim team.

The frustrations surrounding the continued closure of Clemens Community Pool surfaced for a second straight month at a Philomath School Board meeting.

Pool employee Nancy Dushame and lifetime user Carol Leach both shared their views on the situation with the pool during a Nov. 18 meeting. As of this week, the pool’s doors remained locked to the public since it had closed Sept. 1 for a maintenance project. During that time, the school district has been unable to bring in a certified pool operator while awaiting results of a consultant’s findings on the feasibility and financial picture of long-term repairs.

Dushame provided a timeline to board members as a way to illustrate the series of steps taken by the district that she believes has resulted in its continued closure.

“I feel like the school district failed to fulfill their promises to Ellen (Luke) and they lost the director of the pool,” Dushame said, a reference in part to the job being reduced from full time to part time. “They have failed to replace the director — no attempt in the two months of Ellen’s notice and since then, I guess there was an attempt that failed and still no pool director. So the pool is still closed.”

After closing on Sept. 1, the school district’s maintenance staff replaced the decking with a safer surface and made repairs to both locker rooms. A sign on the pool’s door at the time said the pool would reopen Oct. 1.

However, the district has had a difficult time bringing in a new director with the required certifications. A new swim coach had originally accepted the director responsibilities, which would require training, but last week, Superintendent of Schools Buzz Brazeau said that she “ended up not wanting” the position.

As a result, the search to find a certified pool operator continues. Brazeau said it’s very difficult to find someone with the current state of the pool.

“It has been difficult to find someone who is properly certified and at the same time open to the part-time component of the position,” Brazeau said in his superintendent’s report. “It is my hope that the WTI evaluation and succeeding solution options may make this position easier to fill.”

In other words, once it’s established that the pool does indeed have a future, it will be easier to find someone interested in the job. WTI consultant Ryan Nachreiner visited the pool Nov. 4 to survey the structure and supporting equipment.

“He felt confident that he could get us his report in either late November or early December, which would allow us time to create potential pool solutions to the board for consideration,” Brazeau said.

The superintendent seems positive about the pending report.

“What do I think will happen?” Brazeau asked. “I think it’s going to come back and the report’s going to be that we can use the pool. ... I think we’re going to be told that’s a concrete pool that’s old and you have to do some maintenance so you can use it.”

The high school swim team started using the pool Nov. 18 for practice.

Leach, whose family has been involved with the pool when it first opened in December 1960 and years ago served as the pool director, asked for details of pool spending since Sept. 1, the estimated salary for Luke and whether or not she would’ve been able to sign a 40-hour-a-week contract and a complete report on fundraising and its associated accounts.

Leach also mentioned the Benton Community Foundation, which had originally agreed to gift $734,000 to the school district but pulled back because of uncertainties with the pool’s future. The foundation’s president said at the time that it would go back into a fund — created from an endowment with the intent of preserving and supporting the pool — where the money can grow while the district figures out its next move and settles on a long-term plan.

Part of the timeline idea with the original gift was that repairs that would be needed to keep the pool operational for the next 10 years while stakeholders worked on a future solution.

“In that 10 years, it was our goal to figure out how we can get a community pool in Philomath — take it off the school district’s plate and make it a community pool,” Leach said. “I am still committed to that and I will continue to work if it takes 10 years to figure out how we get a pool in this community.”

A lack of communication has been an often-mentioned complaint involving the school district’s handling of the pool situation.

Said Dushame, “Lack of communication with the public in general, lack of communication with our loyal full patrons and lack of communication with your own employees in that we don’t even know if we’re employees anymore or not.”

Brazeau said later in the meeting that he’s working on a series of potential pool-related proposals involving use of the facility but those ideas are on hold until the report comes in.

A pool advisory committee that had been established — Leach among those volunteering — has not met since last summer when Luke was still the operator. But its involvement has disappeared in recent months as Brazeau has gone through his steps to find answers from professional consultants about the pool’s future while working on the CPO vacancy.

The school board will revisit the pool issue at its December meeting with hopes that the WTI report will have been completed and submitted.


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