Water World - Walnut Creek’s public pools need rebuilding. Who is going to pay for it?
Mar 26, 2016 11:15AM ● Published by sylvia sheehan
By Sylvia Sheehan
Walnut Creek’s aquatics culture is woven into the community fabric. Internationally recognized for its elite swimmers, swim teams, water polo players, divers and synchronized swimmers, its pools have nurtured and developed novice athletes into Olympians, some even returning home with medals.
During their 47-year history, Walnut Creek’s synchronized swim team, the Aquanuts, have achieved 200 national titles and trained over 30 Olympians. Olympian Mariya Koroleva and her duet partner Anita Alvarez are on track to compete in the 2016 Brazil Summer Games. Water polo champion sisters Jessica and Maggie Steffens, who took the gold in 2012, found their love for aquatic sports on Walnut Creek Swim Club (WCSC) — the oldest recreational swim team in the county. Other WCSC Olympian alumni include Tammy Crow, Annabelle Orme and Jessica Kim.
The city’s two public swimming pools – Clarke Memorial at Heather Farm Park and Larkey at Larkey Park — are over 45 years old and require rebuilding — from the ground up. According to city officials, plumbing beneath the concrete of both pool decks is operating on borrowed time, pool designs from the early 1970’s are inefficient and the health and sanitation codes do not meet current standards. City Engineer Steve Waymire says the concrete at Clarke Memorial is “starting to crumble and fall off.”
With aging facilities and increasing demand for usage, in 2010 the Walnut Creek City Council hired a team of experts to assess the cost of rebuilding the community pools. Clarke Memorial came in at $22 million to replace the 50-meter pool, 25-meter pool, enlarge the smaller instructional pool and remodel the bathhouse. At Larkey, the experts recommended a $4.3 million renovation of the existing six-lane lap pool and replacement of the baby wading pool into a large interactive splash playground.
After years of consideration and a vocal aquatics community calling for action, in January of 2015 the City Council allocated and approved $4.8 million for the Larkey pool project. The plan calls for increasing the size of the pool to meet code and increasing the depth for synchronized swimmers and others to practice deep water routines. Funding for Larkey comes from a variety of sources: In lieu Parkland funds $2.4M; EBRPD Measure WW funds: $2.25M; infrastructure funds $220,000; Aquanuts $200,000; one time city money for pool upgrades $300,000.
Construction of the Larkey Swim Center is slated to begin in early 2016 with completion by spring of 2017. However, 2016 bids have not yet come in on the project which may exceed the $4.8 million price tag from 2015.
Given the 2010 price tag of $22 million to rebuild Clarke Memorial Swim Center, Arts, Recreation & Community Services Director Kevin Safine said city council directed city staff to seek proposals from organizations to partner with on the financing, constructing, operating and maintaining of a new aquatics facility at Heather Farm Park. Three groups responded – the YMCA, the Walnut Creek Aquatics Foundation and the engineering firm Harley Ellis Deveraux. Given their vast experience with aquatics facilities, in October of 2015, the city council voted to move forward with the Deveraux team.
"The city has demonstrated we value the aquatics community and these are not small dollar figures," said former Mayor Bob Simmons. "We had an intense process and we thought ultimately, we selected the entity to guide us into the next phase. Harley Ellis Deveraux and our aquatics communities have a mutual goal, but Harley is most equipped to lead the charge.” The cost of building a new aquatics facility at Heather Farm, in today’s market and with a viable way to pay for it, remains unknown.
In other pool news, Leisure Sports Inc. which owns and operates Valley Vista Swim and Tennis Club, plans to close the recreational facility in north Walnut Creek at the end of January. Leisure Sports Inc. has reported losing millions of dollars on the swim and tennis club which it regrets closing. The club’s recreational swim 190-member swim team is looking for a new place to practice and host swim meets.