- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
With construction of St. Charles High School well on its way, local officials still are contemplating whether to add a swimming pool to the building.
County officials presented the Charles County commissioners with three options Tuesday for how the commissioners could finance a pool if they decided to add one.
The cost to add the pool is estimated at $6.1 million, though the actual figure might change depending on when the timing of the project is approved.
A pool was included in the construction plan for the county’s seventh high school but was taken out in 2009 and kept only as a bid alternate. There had been talks about adding a swimming pool back into the plan throughout the years, and the idea resurfaced again at a joint meeting between the commissioners and the school board in September. At that time school board member Donald M. Wade expressed reasons for wanting a pool at school.
Wade said the majority of the students attending the school would be ethnic minorities, and many black students are not trained to swim. He said there aren’t any swimming areas on that side of the county. The school is on Piney Church Road in Waldorf. Thomas Stone High School, on Leonardtown Road in Waldorf, has an outdoor pool, and North Point High, also in Waldorf, has an indoor pool.
Putting a pool at the school, Wade said, would be a great resource for the community.
David Eicholtz, acting director of fiscal and administrative services for the county, said county staff came up with three options for funding the pool.
The first option would be to finance the pool with fair share school construction bonds, which would be paid using excise taxes levied on new homes.
Eicholtz said the pool at North Point was financed under that authority, and among other pros for this option, it spreads the cost of the facility out throughout 10 years. This option would reduce any bonds available for new school construction and would delay the excise tax cash balance from being at a positive balance, he said.
The second option would be to pay for the facility with pay-as-you-go funds. This option allows payment without having to borrow funds. Instead, funds would come from savings in other areas. This option, Eicholtz said, avoids interest costs. Choosing this option would weaken the county’s fund balance for potential use for other needs, he said.
The third option would be a combination of the first two. Eicholtz said this option has been done in the past where the county borrows some of the money and pays some out of pocket.
The first option received the highest recommendation from county staff, Eicholtz said.
Commissioner’s President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) expressed a concern with the operating costs of the pool.
Eicholtz said the operating cost is shared between the county and the school system and is estimated at $350,000 a year for power, personnel and related supplies.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said if the pool is going to be built, now would be the time because it would be less expensive to get it in while construction of the school is ongoing.
He asked if adding the pool would effect the immediate budget. Eicholtz said under the first option, it wouldn’t affect the general fund budget.
Kelly said what happens is “we either borrow more, or don’t do some other projects.”
Eicholtz said if in the future there was a huge need for new schools, under the first option there would be that much less funding, the cost of the pool, to work with.
Kelly said the county will need new schools down the line, and there are renovations and repairs needed on existing schools.
She asked if the pool would be a competition-sized pool with space for extensive spectators.
Eicholtz was uncertain of the exact specifications of the pool.
Kelly said the county doesn’t have a dime to spare when it comes to building new schools and fixing old schools. She said right now it’s a matter of equitable treatment of students.
If the pool was going to be a large, competition-sized facility there could be potential to earn revenue from it as it could hold major competitions and it would be different from anything the county already has. She said most of the students who will attend the new school have swimming pools in their neighborhoods and have an opportunity to swim.
“I just feel we have to be prudent here, and there are so many unknowns, and we are trying to get this school open,” she said. “I think we need to make improvements at other schools so we don’t continue to have certain schools that are spectacular while other students don’t have anything near that experience.”
Kelly said it was a timing issue and that if a pool was decided on, she said she agreed that now would be better than later.
Robinson said it doesn’t seem right for a premier high school such as St. Charles to not have a swimming pool.
“I went to a school that was built in 1929, and it had a swimming pool. I would expect a high school opening in 2014 to have a swimming pool.”
Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) said she was inclined to push the pool through but first needed more information as to if the school system could absorb operational costs and if the pool addition would have an impact on the school’s opening date.
The commissioners opted to hold off on a decision until next week.