What’s worse? Not having a neighborhood pool to escape Sacramento’s oppressive summer heat? Or having a pool, but knowing that swimming in it is forbidden?
All summer, this has been the quandary for the kids of Del Paso Heights, who have only been able to look and not touch the oh-so-tempting pool at Grant Union High School. Twin Rivers Unified School District shuttered it right after the school year ended, blaming vandalism. In truth, the blame lies more with poor planning than any vandals.
That’s why we’re glad that Twin Rivers administrators have come to their senses. On Wednesday, the district will reopen at least a portion of the $6.2 million, stainless-steel pool to the public.
It’s the right move. As community activist Gregory Jefferson told The Bee’s Claire Morgan, the pool is a good way to keep teenagers in the often rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Del Paso Heights busy and out of trouble during the long, hot summer months.
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The last Olympic-sized pool at Grant Union was built more than 80 years ago and shut down nine years ago by the Sacramento County Health Department, leaving neighborhood kids without a place to cool off in the summer and students on the swim team without a place to practice.
"We want to keep our kids off the streets,” Jefferson said, “and giving them a place to congregate where it's safe and where they can interact and talk with each other is also an asset to communities of this nature and background."
That is exactly why the pool never should have closed in the first place.
It only opened a year ago, $2 million over budget and following numerous construction delays. Still, Del Paso Heights residents welcomed the pool with open arms — and a flashy public dedication ceremony attended by Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and members of the City Council. Unfortunately, Twin Rivers administrators mismanaged it almost from the start.
Last summer, the pool was packed with neighborhood kids. But that only happened because angry residents forced the school district to walk back plans to close the pool because of a shortage of lifeguards and other staff members.
This summer, the shortage is still a problem. Rather than plan ahead, lining up lifeguards months ago to watch the pool, Twin Rivers only this past week identified a community group willing to provide the service.
There also has been vandalism. Someone, apparently under the cover of night, damaged the pool's PVC lining, requiring several feet of water to be drained to make repairs.
But again, rather than plan ahead and hire enough guards or install enough cameras, lights and other ways to prevent vandalism, the district is only now looking at additional security measures, even though other public pools in North Sacramento have been vandalized in the past.
Twin Rivers also decided to use this summer to finish building bleachers and a shade structure alongside the pool, figuring it was the easiest way to avoid disturbing classes and other events during the regular school year. Only after an outcry from residents has the district come up with a way to do the construction and keep at least part of the pool open.
Steven Martinez, the highly paid superintendent of the long-troubled district, insists he understands the pool's importance to both the school and the surrounding community. “We have a pool at every other school," he told a member of The Bee's editorial board, "we should have a pool at Grant Union, too.”
Fine. Let's make sure that it's a pool people can actually use.