For 20-year-old Oakland resident Jackie Donovan, being in the water at the Berkeley High School warm water pool is the only time during the week that she is free from the confinement of her wheelchair.
Donovan, who has severe cerebral palsy, is a member of the Berkeley Special Needs Aquatic Program, which currently uses the Berkeley High pool. With Dec. 15, the last day of operation at the pool, approaching, the program is looking for other options for where to hold its classes.
SNAP, which has been active in Berkeley for 20 years, gives children and teens with special needs the opportunity to take motor development and exercise classes in the water.
When the pool closes, the kids will need a new place to go. The program, which serves 45 kids, currently uses the warm water pools at the YMCA one day a week and the Berkeley High pool twice a week. SNAP Founder and Director Dori Maxon said she is talking to the Downtown Berkeley YMCA about scheduling more hours for the program.
There will be no replacement for the high school pool, which will be demolished next summer when the campus undergoes construction to add more classrooms and gymnasium space, according to Berkeley Unified School District Facilities Director Lew Jones.
According to Maxon, the Berkeley High pool is unique in that it is a warm water pool that has varying depths and is kept at approximately 92 degrees Fahrenheit.
The YMCA also has two warm water pools — one shallow pool that ranges from 2.5 to 3.5 feet deep and is kept at 91 degrees Fahrenheit and another, Grace’s Pool, that is deeper but is kept at approximately 88 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We’ll certainly try (the YMCA) out and see how it is,” said Tom Donovan, Jackie’s father. He added that he is concerned the 88-degree water will not be warm enough. “I don’t think there’s any kind of a replacement facility that’s going to be close to what the Berkeley High School pool provided.”
Maxon said the biggest challenge in finding a replacement is availability.
“Now we have to compete with everybody else who likes to use the (YMCA) pools,” she said. “But they’re really trying to accommodate us and work with us.”
Fran Gallati, CEO and president of the central Bay Area YMCA, said the temperature of Grace’s Pool was raised by four or five degrees since its reconstruction due to a high demand for warmer water. The reconstruction of the pool — completed around Labor Day — was also sped up by about a year, he said.
“We knew that deep warm water was something that a lot of people seem to be requesting,” Gallati said. “We wanted to make sure we were available if the warm pool (at the high school) closed.”
But it is currently unknown whether everyone in the program will be able to use the YMCA pools because of the lower temperature and yet to be determined hours. According to SNAP Program Coordinator Nancy DeRoche, of the 45 kids in the program, only 15 currently use the YMCA pools each week.
“We’ll have a smaller program next semester,” DeRoche said.
Though SNAP’s plans for the coming year are still up in the air, Maxon said the Berkeley High pool has allowed the program to build a community over the years.
“It’s sad that we’re losing this pool … but we’re also just perpetually optimistic because we’ve been so fortunate to serve so many children over all these years,” Maxon said.