Council okays loan for pools, but their future is still uncertain

Council okays loan for pools, but their future is still uncertain

Michele Ellson

Photo by Jack Boeger.

Members of the City Council agreed Tuesday to give the school district a $1.15 million loan to rehabilitate the Encinal Swim Center. But if schools leaders don’t agree to the terms of the loan in the next 30 days, the city could terminate its joint use of the district’s pools and consider building one of its own – a plan that had some wondering whether the district’s pools will remain open.

Alameda Recreation and Park Department Director Amy Wooldridge said the city offered the loan at schools Superintendent Kirsten Vital’s request, on top of $750,000 the city had already agreed to pay toward the $1.9 million estimated cost of fixing the Encinal High School pools. On Tuesday, Vital presented what one council member characterized as a “counteroffer” to the city’s proposed loan terms.

Wooldridge said Vital gave her a letter Tuesday afternoon seeking a reduction in the city’s proposed interest rate from 4 percent to 1 to 2 percent, an elimination of the requirement that the loan be secured by collateral and a memorandum of understanding, instead of a formal loan agreement.

In the letter, Vital said the district could secure its own loan for the lower rate but that they don’t want the loan on the district’s books because it could reduce the amount the district could seek if it asks voters for a bond, Wooldridge said. District leaders have been discussing the possibility of placing a bond to upgrade Alameda Unified’s facilities on the November 2014 ballot, and Wooldridge said the bond could include money to pay off the loan.

If a deal isn’t worked out by October 18, the city will stop using the district’s pools and start looking into building its own swim center over the bones of the former Navy pool, adjacent to the Alameda Point gym. Still, Wooldridge said the school board could consider approving a deal as soon as Tuesday.

“If we do not reach an agreement, we will pursue planning a new facility at Alameda Point,” Wooldridge said.

She said if a deal isn’t reached, it would be up to schools leaders – who were discussing a potential facilities planning effort and the bond a few blocks away Tuesday – to decide whether to continue operating the high school pools.

Don Krause, a former president of Alameda Island Aquatics who has been involved in efforts to fix the pools or build new ones elsewhere, said he was “stunned” by what he saw as a lack of cooperation between the city and the school district. He said he’s worried that if the city walks away from the district’s pools, they will close.

“Where’s the cooperation? This is a threat,” Krause said. “This memo is a threat to AUSD.”

City Manager John Russo said that the city has been trying unsuccessfully for two years to work out a permanent solution for the pools, which have been closed several times in recent years due to their poor condition. He said the council directed city staff in June 2012 to renew the pool agreement for one year only to see if a solution could be found and that staff requested a three-month extension this past June to maintain the city’s summer swim programs.

Russo said city staffers want to help the school district fix the pools, but that they have to be careful with the money they’re spending. He said the terms Vital is seeking could put the city in a poor position if the school district doesn’t make its payments.

“It’s the strong position of the staff that we should help the school district fix (the) pool. The people who swim there are our people too,” Russo said. “But that is not a reason to start throwing money at things knowing in advance that we have no real remedy if we don’t get paid.”

Members of the City Council said they, too, would like to see the pools fixed, and they said they thought the terms the city is proposing are fair. Both Mayor Marie Gilmore and Councilman Stewart Chen said they wouldn’t agree to a deal that didn’t offer some security for the loan.

“I just want to make it very clear that to me, lack of security for a loan or any granting of funds is a deal breaker,” Gilmore said.

Councilwoman Lena Tam questioned whether the loan was the best use of the city’s limited funds. She cast the lone vote against lending the money to the school district.

“I appreciate the need for a pool,” said Tam, who serves on the council subcommittee that works on school district issues. “But when we talk about best and highest use of funds, we’re talking about prioritizing. And as a city that’s resource constrained, it’s about determining what our priorities are and determining what other things don’t get funded.”

The city and school district jointly use and maintain the pools, sharing the $300,000 a year maintenance cost. The loan payments would be made on top of that amount.

The proposed swim center fixes include replacing the center’s competition and diving pools and also, major repairs to pool decking, lockers and other swim center equipment, Wooldridge said.

She said the city has tentatively explored the idea of building a new swim center at the Point, one that could include competition and training pools and an indoor play area for small children. A new swim center was one of the items city leaders hoped a proposed sales tax increase would pay for, but voters rejected it.

But city staffers have found an alternate funding source for another item on that list – a proposed replacement for the city’s existing emergency operations center. The council on Tuesday okayed a plan to refinance the city’s 11-year-old City Hall bonds in order to generate the $3 million needed to build the new center.

Under the proposal approved by the council on a 4-0 vote, the city will seek up to $12 million in bond money that it will use to repay the $7.4 million still due on the 2002 City Hall bonds and fund construction of the emergency operations center. The new bonds would take an additional five to eight years to pay off and would cost a total of $15.4 million, the city’s controller, Fred Marsh, said.

Tam abstained from the vote.

The center would be moved from the basement of the police department to a new location at the corner of Grand Street and Buena Vista Avenue, which is also expected to someday house a new Fire Station 3.

“Our goal is to start turning over dirt in the spring of 2014,” Russo said of the center. “We have plans. We just need to get a contractor on board and get going.”


Submitted by Laura (not verified) on Wed, Sep 18, 2013

"said Tam, who serves on the council subcommittee that works on school district issues. “But when we talk about best and highest use of funds, we’re talking about prioritizing. And as a city that’s resource constrained, it’s about determining what our priorities are and determining what other things don’t get funded.”

I don't trust Councilwoman Tam's priorities...primarily because she is helping to DISMANTLE Alameda's public school district: by (continually supporting her staff's closed public sessions on the) requisitioning of a historic/priceless school district property (when there are other privately-owned/available to build on parcels in the same neighborhood, and all) in the name of: fulfilling California's requirement for low income housing.

Shame on our Mayor and all of our City Council, for not directing their staff to abstain from taking public lands that serve Alameda's families and students for their intended housing development, especially when the property has not been surplussed by BOE or allowed any kind of public process such as the Community Engagement on Historic Alameda High.

Submitted by Tony (not verified) on Thu, Sep 19, 2013

Where are you getting your information? There is NO truth or factual basis in your assumptions about the City's closed session discussion about the AUSD property.

Submitted by Laura (not verified) on Thu, Sep 19, 2013

I do so by attending live public meetings and accessing public docs; please do your homework before accusing a commenter of making non truth/non fact based assumptions, thanks and some links to Closed Sessions on AUSD real estate/City negotiations are here:
3) Also, the Subcommittee of the City Council and the School Board meet quarterly, along with their administrative/legal staff. It is currently difficult to access any documents online however because the City has recently removed past agendas/minutes/audio files with the redesign of their new website.