A small but determined group won a one-year reprieve for the Sopori pool, but it comes with an assignment. They have to figure out how to turn the pool into an integral part of the community so the Sahuarita Unified School District won’t consider closing it again.
SUSD announced last month that it was considering closing the 18-year-old pool because it needs more than $62,000 in repairs and upgrades, it costs more than $40,000 annually to maintain, and relatively few people have used it in recent years because of shorter hours.
Before taking the issue to the board, Superintendent Manny Valenzuela scheduled two meetings in Amado and a study session for the board.
Only a handful of people attended the first meeting, but at least 25 people showed up for the second. In addition, 82 people signed a petition in favor of opening the pool this summer.
On Wednesday, half a dozen people pleaded with the board to keep the pool open. They reiterated points made at the earlier meetings: Amado and Arivaca don’t have a lot of recreational opportunities for children, attendance may be low due to inconsistent hours of operation, and many people don’t know the pool exists.
The district has had to shorten operating hours in the past few years because it couldn't find certified lifeguards, even at $20 per hour.
Repair bill drops
Assistant Superintendent Scott Downs also advised board members that if they were interested in keeping the pool open, they could get by with making just $9,000 in repairs.
The district can save money by replacing just one pump and hoping the other one makes it through the summer, Downs said. Staff can also patch the pool’s crack instead of a contractor, and make minimal repairs to the pool’s showers and sinks.
He also said two lifeguards from last year have agreed to come back this year.
The board voted 3-1 to move forward with the short list of repairs and to open the pool from June 4 to July 20.
However, board member Tom Murphy said the pool is on “life support.”
“We’re not in the parks and recreation business,” Murphy said. It will be up to the people of Amado and Arivaca to work together to make the pool a viable venture, he said.
Green Valley resident Bob Baker was thrilled with the decision. He has vowed to fill the pool with kids and to put together a competitive swim team with the help of others he met at one of the Amado meetings, including the Rev. Donna Maurer of the the Sonoran Desert Center for Spiritual Living, and Ellen Dursema, coordinator for the Arivaca Community Center.
There are three faith communities interested in keeping the pool open, Maurer said.
She expects that members of those communities will be meeting with Baker, Dursema and others for a brainstorming session in the coming days to develop a plan of action.
Dursema said she’ll be making calls to try to get others on board with their efforts; she already knows there are seniors in the area interested in water aerobics classes.
“There’s been a lot of discussion in the community, not just in Amado, but Arivaca as well,” said Tony Bruno, the drug-free communities prevention coordinator for the Amado Youth Center.
“I’ll talk to whoever I have to talk to. I’ll get the word out,” Amado post mistress Linda Martinez said. “I’ll tell all of my customers that if they want to keep it open, they’ve got to use it.”
SUSD board member Shari Lowell was adamant about keeping the pool open, saying the district made a commitment to doing so. She encouraged community members to reach out to competitive swim teams in Rio Rico and Tucson that may be in need of pool facilities.
Board member Dalia Zimmerman cast the opposing vote. She questioned whether the decision was fiscally responsible and in keeping with the district’s primary purpose — educating children. When teachers are spending hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets for school supplies, repairing, operating and maintaining the pool doesn’t make sense, she said.
Lowell argued the funds for the pool will come from money generated by the district renting out its auditorium and other facilities to civic groups.
“They’re different buckets,” Lowell said.
The district took over the pool and Kay Stupy-Sopori Neighborhood Park in July 2007, as part of an agreement with Pima County. Ownership of the five-acre park was transferred to the district in 2006.
Kim Smith | 547-9740