The fate of the CHS pool remains a matter of debate – Essex News Daily

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The South Orange–Maplewood School Board discussed the Columbia High School pool at its May 16 meeting, returning to a conversation about keeping the high school pool as part of the facilities plan at long-term ongoing district. A group of residents made the case for the CHS pool with a presentation at a March 21 BOE meeting, saying not having an indoor pool in the two towns would exacerbate inequality issues. The swimming pool is still in the school but was closed in 2013.

“At this point, I think we have to make a decision and move on,” BOE member Kaitlin Wittleder said at the meeting. “In my mind, it’s with the long-term facilities plan and having this pool area as a school common.”

According to Wittleder, an architectural estimate received by the district indicated that, even if the pool was renovated and restored to working order, it could not host competitions. There are strict standards based on length, width and depth for competitive swimming, and the CHS pool reportedly does not meet these standards.

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

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

The cost of renovating the swimming pool has been discussed at many previous BOE meetings; the group that originally pitched the concept for it to reopen for operation said repairs would cost $3.5 million, which 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 had received to renovate the pool, including the locker room, was $8 million.

BOE chairman Thair Joshua said an architectural firm would be present at the board meeting in July to give a presentation on the pool. Business Administrator Eric Burnside said there will also be updated cost estimates at this meeting.

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

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 the locker room is a no-start.

“Can we as a district afford an $8 million renovation for a recreational-only pool?” she says. “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 start construction?”

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

Photos Courtesy of saveourkidspool.com

Jessica C. Bell