Warm water pool users raise concerns about possibility of using YMCA pools

With Berkeley’s only warm water pool set to close in under three months, city staff held a meeting Tuesday night to hear the complaints of an agitated elderly crowd that raised concerns about the possibility of using the Downtown Berkeley YMCA’s pools for their physical therapy exercises.

At the meeting, the Parks Recreation and Waterfront department reiterated that the last day of operation for the warm water pool at Berkeley High School is Dec. 15, while notifying community members that a deal with the YMCA to let swimmers use their facilities is still being worked out.

The pool’s almost certain closure comes as a result of the Berkeley Unified School District’s plan to renovate the high school’s facilities next summer.

William Rogers, director of the department, said that an arrangement was still in progress with the YMCA but did not give any details about what the arrangement would be or when it would be revealed. The deal is assumed to be a way for regular users of the high school’s warm pool, especially the elderly and disabled, to access the YMCA warm pools.

Many of those who attended the meeting on Tuesday expressed concerns about the YMCA’s two warm pools, saying that the water temperature is too low, parking is not easily accessible and the hours of operation are too short. The high school’s pool is kept at 92 degrees Fahrenheit, whereas the YMCA pools are 88 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Several attendees said they simply would not use the YMCA pools.

The YMCA has rebuilt its warm pools in recent years to better serve the community, according to YMCA CEO Fran Gallati.

“It’s essentially a brand new pool — we raised the temperature to expand the number of people’s needs we can meet,” Gallati said.

Robert Collier, co-chair for the Berkeley Pools campaign, which formed in 2009 to advocate on behalf of swimmers at the city’s pools, said swimmers do “appreciate the Y as a stopgap measure” but added that warm pool users feel the YMCA does not meet their needs.

The campaign tried to pass a $22.5 million bond, Measure C, on the June 2010 ballot to provide funding to keep the pool open and renovate the city’s three other public pools. The measure, which required a two-thirds majority to pass, gained only 62.24 percent of votes and, as a result, Willard Pool closed.

Collier said the campaign is considering placing a bond measure on the November 2012 ballot to raise funds for a completely new structure and warm pool as a permanent solution.

In addition to dealing with the concerns of the community, a lawsuit filed July 11 is looking for compensation for an accident that occurred at the warm water pool while attempting to keep it open on the grounds that closing it would be discriminatory toward disabled people. The lawsuit names the city of Berkeley and the Berkeley Unified School District as defendants.

The city declined to comment on the ongoing litigation, and counsel for the school district could not be reached.

Plans for the closure of the warm pool have already been put in place, according to Scott Ferris, recreation and youth services manager for the city. Pool equipment is set to start being removed in late November.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article was accompanied by an incorrect photo.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the Berkeley Pools Campaign formed last year to save Willard Pool. In fact, the campaign was created in 2009.