Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

Future cloudy for pool at Piney Branch

YMCA will not renew agreement to run elementary school facility

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Brian Lewis⁄The Gazette
On Monday, a deep water aerobics class uses the YMCA-operated pool at Piney Branch Elementary School in Takoma Park. Since the YMCA has decided not to renew its agreement with the county, the future of the facility is uncertain after Labor Day.
The Silver Spring YMCA has decided it will not renew its lease with the county school system to run the pool at Piney Branch Elementary School, leaving the pool’s future in doubt after Labor Day.

The YMCA has run the Takoma Park facility for the last five years, when the nonprofit and the county’s Board of Education agreed that the YMCA would take over the county’s daily operations of the six-lane, 25-yard pool.

Over the last few weeks, signs around the pool have been posted notifying swimmers that the YMCA will not be running the pool after Sept. 3.

‘‘There are a lot of barriers that we haven’t been able to get through,” said Max Basin, the YMCA’s aquatics director.

Carol Gregory, a YMCA spokeswoman, said the county paid for the pool’s operating costs, but did not have an annual figure. Basin said the YMCA was unable to keep the pool up to its own standards because employees did not have access to equipment needed to maintain the pool. Despite the agreement, the pool was still a county facility, Basin said, and the county had the final say in when YMCA employees were allowed to make repairs.

‘‘They didn’t want us touching their equipment,” Basin said of the county school system.

Janice Turpin of the county school system’s department of facilities management said the county was still looking to ‘‘piece together” the problems. According to the pool agreement between the county Board of Education and the YMCA executed five years ago, the agreement was to renew automatically each year unless either party chose not to do so. In this case, that party was the YMCA, Turpin said.

The YMCA was responsible for cleaning and routine maintenance of the pool, including draining and the replacement of filters, Turpin said of the agreement. The county school system had control over opening and closing the pool to provide the YMCA with access, security of the pool and any costs outside of routine maintenance, she said.

Turpin said it was premature to address any claims made by the YMCA or who, if anyone, would take the pool over next.

‘‘As far as what’s next, we really need to see what the problems were, and meet with the YMCA and others on our staff to figure out how those problems might be remedied,” Turpin said.

Gabriele von Nordheim, a Montgomery County Public Schools’ athletics specialist, said she had not yet determined whether county swim teams could continue scheduling practices at the pool.

Takoma Park City Manager Barbara Burns Matthews said the city was not involved at all in the operation of the pool. Before the YMCA took over, the county’s recreation department ran the pool, not the city.

Bertram Generlette, Piney Branch Elementary School’s principal, said during the school year, the school has priority for use of the pool, and it is only open to the public before and after school hours. The YMCA took over in the summer, he said.

‘‘My bottom line is, I would love to be able to keep it going because it’s a good asset for our school, and a good incentive for us,” Generlette said.

Basin said that while the pool was a service to the neighboring Takoma Park community that preferred the convenient location and a quieter atmosphere than the Silver Spring YMCA, the pool has had ‘‘minimal use” since the YMCA took it over. Most of the activity was during open swim hours, he said, with some groups renting the pool in the evenings.

Back in 2001, when the pool was operated by the county recreation department and was shut down after the county cut its funding, Takoma Park activists conducted a petition drive and signatures were collected during the city’s annual Independence Day, prompting the county to reassess its decision.

Kathy Napierala, a Silver Spring resident who has been meeting at the pool in the winter with her Daleview Masters swim club for the last 10 years, said the pool lost some of its regulars when the YMCA took it over. Over the last five years, she said, the time clock and lane ropes have been damaged or broken, the pool’s temperature has been either too hot or too cold, and the water has been over-chlorinated. But the news was still distressing, she said.

‘‘On the one hand, it was much better when the county had it, but if the county isn’t picking it up, and the pool is closing, that’s pretty disastrous,” she said.