Leaky pool at Moffat County High School to close at end of spring swim season
CRAIG — During the same week the Moffat County High School girls swim team headed to state championships, the Moffat County School District Board of Directors learned that the MCHS pool will close in August.
“We are losing 350 to 450 gallons of water per day from the pool, and we don’t know where that water is going. When I walked across the liner of the empty pool, it sounded like potato chips crunching,” said Superintendent David Ulrich in a presentation to the school board Tuesday.
After years of deferred maintenance, few options remain: replace the high school pool at an estimated cost of $1.1 million or repurpose the space and try to accommodate swimmers elsewhere.
“It sounds like it should be closed or renovated,” said Board Vice Chair Lee Atkin.
The pool has been problematic for years.
Board President JoAnn Baxter recalled that, about seven years ago, the board decided not to spend money to repair the pool, but instead to operate it until it reached the point it had to be closed.
“We have reached that point,” Ulrich told the board Tuesday.
He added that District Facilities Manager Mike Taylor had recommended closure in the past, based on engineering reports.
“The integrity of the pool is compromised. Where is 350 to 450 gallons of water a day going underneath the building or down the hill, and I believe that, if we don’t do this, there will be a greater cost to pay,” Ulrich said.
A 2016 state of Colorado Department of Education Building Excellent Schools Today assessment of the pool estimated the replacement cost at $1.1 million.
That price tag is difficult to justify in the midst of closing a school.
“It would be really dumb to put the whole foundation at risk to wait to rebuild when it will cost $1.1 million,” said Board Secretary Elise Sullivan.
The district spends about $87,000, plus the cost of the water, to operate the pool each year.
Shocking news for swimmers, coaches
The pool is currently used by the MCHS boys and girls swim teams, elementary schools students, Craig Sea Sharks, adult swimmers and students from neighboring schools. It is not currently used for high school physical education classes.
“We are absolutely devastated and blindsided as a team about the recent announcement regarding the pool’s imminent closure, especially when this announcement came 48 hours before we compete at the state meet,” said swim coach Meghan Francone.
She and assistant coach Melany Neton have been invited to meet with MCHS Athletic Director Rich Houghton and Principal Kyle York to discuss how to keep school swimming in Northwest Colorado.
“As the only Colorado High School Activities Association swim team, we have Steamboat, Rangely and Meeker swimmers. The Meeker Rec Center is the closest, most affordable option, but that would be a huge hardship for students, forcing them to be on the road two hours daily,” Neton said.
The two coaches question the need to close the pool before solutions can be found.
“There really isn’t anything more wrong with the pool than there has been. The heater hasn’t gone out, the pump hasn’t gone out, nothing has changed,” Neton said.
They also worry about the impact of the news on the team, both this week and into the future.
“With the water draining also goes their futures and opportunities for college scholarships for students. Many of the students have put over a decade of work towards those goals,” Francone said.
What’s next for school swimming?
The decision to close the pool in August has been made by the superintendent.
It is now up to the board to direct staff to find the means to pay for a new pool, agree to have it repurposed and work with the community to find another option for school swimming.
“This is part of a larger conversation about what our community values and how much we are willing to pay to have it,” Ulrich said.
He has already spoken with Mayor John Ponikvar and City Manager Mike Foreman and made a commitment to engage with the city recreational planning process.
“We should keep a line item in the budget to create partnerships with anchor institutions to keep the swim program going,” Atkin said.
The fate of the high school pool will be one of many topics the board will discuss as it moves to create a budget for the 2018-19 school year.
Other items to be considered during the budget process include renewed investment in technology and a new robotics programs, reorganization of administrative staff, increases to salaries and benefits, improvements to the Vocational Agriculture building at the high school, other capital projects and replacing old buses.
The board next meets Feb. 22.
Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or snelson@CraigDailyPress.com.