Fate of the CHS pool remains a topic of debate

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — The South Orange–Maplewood Board of Education discussed the Columbia High School pool at its May 16 meeting, revisiting a conversation about the possibility of retaining the high school’s pool as part of the district’s ongoing long-range facilities plan. A group of residents advocated for the CHS pool with a presentation at a BOE meeting on March 21, saying that not having an indoor pool in the two towns would exacerbate inequity issues. The pool is still in the school but was closed in 2013.

“At this point I do think we need to make a decision and proceed,” BOE member Kaitlin Wittleder said at the meeting. “In my mind, that’s with the long-range facilities plan and having that pool space as a school commons.”

According to Wittleder, an architectural estimate received by the district said that, even if the pool were renovated and brought back to functioning order, it would not be able to host competitions. There are strict standards based on length, width and depth for competitive swimming, and the CHS pool would not meet those standards.

“This would be a pool that would be for recreational use only,” Wittleder said. “A lot of maintenance happens during the summer, so schools drain their pools, and if you’re taking care of the pool, that’s when you get it done. This would be a recreational-use pool that would likely not have access or use during the summer.”

Wittleder said she wants more information about a survey given to students about the pool; BOE student representative Noah Morros said at the meeting that the survey was done by CHS students in a journalism class and he would follow up with more information about it after the meeting.

The cost of renovating the pool has been discussed at many prior BOE meetings; the group that initially presented the concept of reopening it to be operational said the repairs would cost $3.5 million, which is what the BOE said it would cost to demolish the space and turn it into a common area. The board said at its April 18 meeting that the architectural estimate it received to renovate the pool, including the locker room, was $8 million.

BOE President Thair Joshua said an architecture firm will be at the board’s July meeting to present on the pool. Business administrator Eric Burnside said there would be updated cost estimates at that meeting as well.

“They’re going to have the comparison of what it is to restore it versus not restoring it,” he said at the meeting. “They’ll have all the analysis.”

Despite potential changes to the estimate in the future, Wittleder said the difference between $3.5 million to potentially demolish the pool space and turn it into something else and $8 million to renovate the pool and locker room is a nonstarter.

“Can we as a district afford an $8 million renovation to a recreational-use–only pool?” she said. “Are we spending a lot of time spinning our wheels on this when we can focus on meeting to discuss the common space and prepare for the fall when we break ground and start that construction?”

Joshua said the presentation in July will cover both the potential common space and a functioning pool as possibilities.

Photos Courtesy of saveourkidspool.com