MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Board of Education voted unanimously to repurpose the existing swimming pool at Columbia High School into classrooms and did not approve construction of a new pool at their meeting on Monday night.
Bowing to pressure from taxpayers, the board reversed the direction in which it appeared to be heading at the public forum on the topic held in October.
“Since then, we have received literally hundreds of emails,” said Board President Beth Daugherty. “Of those, I would say two-thirds have been against the pool and one-third in favor. There is also a petition we are aware of which has 450 signatures, maybe more by now, in opposition to the pool. The pool was also politicized in the recent election.”
Daugherty said the board discussed the matter at their recent facilities meeting.
“There is more of a feeling that this is not the right time to add an addition to the school for a pool that is squarely on the back of debt service that is part of the school district budget,” she said, to a smattering of applause.
She and other board members made clear that they would like to find a way for the district to have a year-round pool, whether it is at the high school ore elsewhere in South Orange or Maplewood. The possibility of finding private donors, holding a fundraising campaign, partnering with one or both municipalities and exploring other options were all discussed.
The existing pool could be repaired for use as the Columbia swim team’s practice facility (and for physical education classes) for somewhere between $10,000 and $20,000, Cheryl Schneider estimated. Based on budget projections, she recommended doing that, which would be less expensive then having the team rent pool time elsewhere for the next two years, and then to proceed with the repurposing construction in the summer of 2016.
Board member Madhu Pai noted that the pool situation should be a part of an overall audit of all CHS athletic facilities, a number of which have been brought into question.