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New Berlin school pool fight flows into new year

District and proponents continue to disagree on level of priority

Dec. 20, 2013

New Berlin — As 2013 comes to an end, the controversy over whether to replace the Eisenhower Middle/High School swimming pool hasn't.

Faced with a facility that officials have deemed beyond repair, the New Berlin School Board is trying to decide whether to spend the estimated $1.6 million to replace the pool or simply depend the district's other pool, at New Berlin West Middle/High School, for all related activities.

Those who favor its replacement are frustrated because the Eisenhower pool ranked third out of 258 potential New Berlin school facilities projects evaluated by the district.

Despite the pool's high ranking, it has ended up in the pool of projects the School Board did not approve for funding.

Educational viewpoints

The reason is simple, district officials say.

"The pool isn't part of our core curriculum," said Roger Dickson, district chief finance and operations officer.

"Having a high (ranking) does not mean it will automatically get done," Dickson said. "And it doesn't mean we're going to ignore core mission items that score lower."

The district does require all seventh- and eighth-graders to take a swim unit, and high school students taking the personal lifetime fitness option for gym also use the pool.

But Melinda Mueller, district director of communications, noted that the state doesn't require swimming.

Eisenhower swim team parent Russ Bellford disagrees that swimming is not related to core education.

Promoting and teaching physical fitness is part of the district's mission, Bellford said, and swimming is a lifetime fitness activity, unlike football and some other sports that require teams. Yet, those sports are supported by the district, he added.

Swimming particularly promotes fitness for girls, because swimming is the third most popular sport with girls, Bellford said.

Costs and taxes

The other obstacle in the way of replacing the Eisenhower pool is that it would likely mean higher property taxes, Dickson said.

"And I don't see that as a possibility," he said, which is why the administration has yet to recommend pool replacement.

The district estimated that replacing the pool would cost the owner of a $250,000 home a total of $17.50 over two years.

School Board President David Maxey expressed much the same views in a response to a young competitive swimmer who pleaded with the School Board for a new Eisenhower pool.

"We acknowledge that the Eisenhower pool project scored very high in terms of need as we ranked a list of potential projects," Maxey wrote. "However, this ranking did not consider cost."

But Bellford said it seems arbitrary and subjective to ignore the ranking process that was objective and quantitative.

"The Eisenhower pool project ... was the second highest ranked project behind only security issues such as fire resistant doors or secure entrances ...," he said. "The pool ranked ahead of all the energy projects which all seem to have scored a 20."

If you are talking cost, he said, "The pool was much less expensive than the combined energy projects at IKE."

Those energy projects, all of which will be done next year, add up to more than $6.2 million, compared with the estimated $1.6 million for the pool.

However, Dickson said energy projects are related to better student and staff comfort, which translates to better learning and they will save energy costs.

And the Eisenhower pool is hardly the only project not funded.

Also on that unfunded list are Poplar and Orchard Lane elementary schools air conditioning at estimated to cost from $1.4 million to $2.4 million combined; $3.5 million to build an auxiliary gym at Eisenhower; $2.4 million to rebuild the Eisenhower parking lot; nearly $1.2 million for a new varsity softball diamond to support both high schools; and $1 million for artificial sports turf and a track at the Eisenhower football stadium.

Considering options

To try to save money on a pool, school officials looked into a 50-meter pool that might be shared with the city. But they quickly realized how expensive that would be and abandoned the idea, Dickson said.

"I floated it to one person who said it would be suicide, so I dropped it," Dickman said.

Currently, officials are looking into turning the swimming pool into another gym.

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