Wednesday, May 14, 2008

County Council members see way pool could reopen

Proposal calls for funds from Takoma Park, county for aging Piney Branch Elementary facility

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Members of the Takoma Park City Council and the Montgomery County Council have put together a plan to reopen the pool at Piney Branch Elementary School, which has been closed since September 2007 and requires significant renovation to get into working condition.

Under the plan, which the County Council is expect to vote on today, the county would pay more than $200,000 for contractors to reopen and operate the pool. The City of Takoma Park would contribute $50,000.

In a memo sent to the County Council this week by council members George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park, Marc Elrich (D-At Large) of Takoma Park and Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring, the plan recommends the county solicit contracts for pool renovation and calls for the City of Takoma Park and Montgomery County Public Schools each to contribute $50,000 to the renovation cost.

County community grants would pay for the almost $207,000 in estimated annual operating costs. The county, which owns the pool, would seek to make Adventist Community Services Inc., a nonprofit social services program, the pool’s new operator. Any money the pool makes would go toward future operating costs, according to the memo.

The plan is derived from a recommendation made by a working group of Takoma Park residents. The City Council adjusted that plan before presenting it to County Council members.

The pool at the Maple Avenue school has been closed since its previous operator, the Silver Spring YMCA, opted not to renew its lease with the school system.

It had been used by the school’s physical education classes and for practice by local swim teams and other programs, but in recent years the county reported that the pool was underused.

Many Takoma Park and Silver Spring residents have asked officials to find a way to keep the pool open and the City Council, which has no official say in the decision, has passed several resolutions calling for it to reopen.

Under a 1969 memorandum of understanding between the city and the county, the city gave up the land for the school on the agreement that the county would maintain recreational facilities there for use by city residents.

In December, School Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said in a memo that the cost of repairing and maintaining the pool would be better spent by turning the facility into a gym, a recommendation that Leventhal, Ervin and Elrich called premature.

Estimates to renovate and reopen the pool have ranged from $64,000 to $190,000 depending on the level of maintenance, but the memo says that a contract ‘‘should require getting the pool into working condition, rather than specifying particular work items.”

Cleaning the pool gutters, servicing dehumidifier units, refurbishing the pool office and replacing a water fountain, phone lines, safety equipment and supplies were among the maintenance needs listed in an estimate made by the city.

Once the pool is up and running, operational costs would include hiring staff, buying supplies and performing regular maintenance.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Bruce Williams called the proposal a ‘‘last ditch effort” to reopen the pool.

‘‘We’re hopeful that the County Council will see fit to go with the plan that we put forward in conjunction with County Council members, or some modified version,” he said.

City Councilman Terry Seamens (Ward 4) said the city was looking for a five-year commitment from an operator so the community would not have to repeat the process.

Leventhal said Monday that he did not know how many supporters on the County Council the plan would have other than Ervin, Elrich and himself.

‘‘I hope the rest of the council will support it,” he said.

The county’s budget is scheduled to be formally adopted May 22.

Sue Katz Miller, co-president of the Piney Branch PTA, said Tuesday she was thrilled that after eight months of work by residents and officials, ‘‘we finally came up with a plan that seems to be viable.”

‘‘We’re just really keeping our fingers crossed for the vote,” she said. ‘‘We know how bad the budget situation is but everybody in the downcounty, in the Silver Spring⁄Takoma Park area understands that this isn’t a luxury pool that happens to be a pool in the school as a fluke. It was created as an outreach facility.”

Miller said if the council doesn’t fund the pool this year, residents will continue to efforts to reopen it.

‘‘It won’t be over,” she said. ‘‘It will just be over for this year, because the facility is still there.”