September 17, 2013 at 6:15 AM
MAPLEWOOD, NJ - Figures presented at the meeting of the South Orange-Maplewood Board of Education meeting in July showed the enrollment of Columbia High School increasing from its current 1,800 to an estimated 2,300 in 2021.
The board now is considering a capital plan and among options considered has been the elimination of the school's swimming pool and devoting the space currently occupied by the pool to classrooms. This least-expensive option, at a cost of $5.9 million, would mean that the school's swim team would have to find an off-campus pool for practices and meets.
Support for that position appears to be coming from some of the students themselves. At Monday's board of education meeting Maggie Kritzberg, student representative to the education body, said she had spoken to members of the student council and other students leaders and, in those conversations, found little support for the pool. She said, of course, members of the swim team wanted to continue to have a facility at Columbia.
Kritzberg said she had not taken a formal survey of Columbia students, but would be speaking to more of them in the coming weeks.
Board members showed some interest in the student sentiment and they gave a possible reason for student opposition to continuing the pool—its elimination might lead to elimination of swimming classes as part of the physical education curriculum. One opinion was that students are particular about their appearance and don't like having to dress for swimming classes after dressing up for school. Kritzberg seemed to agree with this assessment.
The student representative did say, however, that a number of Columbia students did not know how to swim.
Board member Jeff Bennett said that no one would argue that knowing how to swim isn't important, but teaching kids to swim at a pool at the high school is an extremely inefficient way to accomplish this. He pointed out that most drownings were by very young children. He said that they should try to offer swim lessons to younger children and added that perhaps scholarships could be offered to the two community swimming pools in the area covered by the South Orange-Maplewood district.
School Business Administrator Cheryl Schneider said some classrooms could be built above the locker rooms for the pool if it was to remain but no classrooms would be built above the school itself.
Schneider also said a new pool could be built in the area of the school closer to Ritzer Field with classrooms located elsewhere in the high school.
Board President Beth Daugherty said, however, that, even if plans go forward without a pool, additional physical education space probably would be needed in the school.
Board member Andrea Wren-Hardin said the board wanted to get a great deal of input from the community in order to decide whether or not a new pool would be a community asset.
The board previously scrapped plans for a completely new full-service community aquatic center at the school to replace the existing pool.
School body members will hold a community forum on their capital plan next month. Current plans call for that forum to be hold on Oct. 17 at the Maplewood Library, but Daugherty said those plans may change if municipal meetings in either South Orange or Maplewood conflict with the capital plan forum.