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Sink or Swim

Island Life
Image by Studio 216 for the Vashon Seals & The Friends of Vashon Pool.
Image by Studio 216 for the Vashon Seals & The Friends of Vashon Pool.

As a member of the on again, off again group known as the Friends of Vashon Pool, I have been receiving emails lately that have been detailing the latest efforts to make the Vashon Pool a year ‘round facility. In reading what these e-epistles had to offer I was left less than impressed, mostly because the solution that is currently being put forward, that of an inflatable dome that could be installed and removed as the seasons dictate, is something we had discussed and discarded two years ago as an unworkable solution for a number of reasons. As compared to what we finally decided would be the best solution to the problem- that of a rigid, retractable roof- the inflatable dome left a lot to be desired. The two main reasons that swung our vote were storage and ease of use. When the dome is not in use it has to be placed somewhere out of the way and safe from damage until it is needed for the next season, and there is a recurring cost for both putting it up and taking it down, if not also a cost for storage somewhere or at least a one time cost of building a storage unit either on or off site. And with the dome, it is either up or down. It seemed that with the changeability of Northwest weather, being able to open a retractable roof on a warm April or October day or to close it on a rainy, 50 degree day in July at the flick of a switch just seemed to make more sense in terms of encouraging more pool usage 365 days a year.

Encouraging the use of the pool by a wide range of Islanders and organizations was another key part of our discussions about covering the pool. As I have heard on a daily basis from the other half of this household, programs are the key to a pool’s survivability. The reason I hear this is because Wendy has run Colman pool for the past seven summers for the Seattle Parks Department, and the fact is that programs go a long way toward covering pool operating costs, something that the Vashon Parks Department has been only slowly coming around to realizing. I remember being somewhat stunned as I sat in on a meeting back during the transitioning of the Vashon Pool from the County to the VPD and heard that they (the VPD) were basically going to take the $75K that the County was giving them to help with the operating costs and using that as the sole source of operations as they learned the ropes for the first season, while ignoring the need for programs. This seemed to segue right in with what happened as Commissioners Ameling, Hackett and Wald blew up the Parks budget with the ill-conceived VES fields debacle, when instead of ramping up programs to generate more revenue, they instead did away with programs and fired staff to keep the whole District from imploding. Throughout our discussions with FOVP, I kept referring to the success of the Juniper Aquatics Center in Bend Oregon, a place we had become acquainted with through our summer open water swim event excursions, and their ability to generate over 80% of their operating costs through their programs and the enthusiasm of the people who ran them. As far as I have heard of the current plan to dome the pool, a token offering of twenty some hours a week for lap swimmers will hardly cover anything close to projected operating costs, a consideration that seems to otherwise be completely missing from this latest group’s thinking.

It should be stated here that among the many groups we had in mind as partners in our efforts to cover the pool, the current people running the dome show- the Seals swimming team- had been asked repeatedly to join us. As I recall, they only attended one of our meetings and did help with the spring open day a few Aprils back, but for the most part they remained apart from what we were trying to do. It wasn’t until they were being squeezed out of their practice time at the Vashon Athletic Club that they cranked up their own covering initiative, having missed out on our momentum and two years of planning and construction time. As it was, back in my competitive swimming days I had come up against a similar situation in that as I aged out of the YMCA league I had been swimming in, I found myself in my hometown high school which did not have a pool or a swim team, a problem that became moot when I was shipped off to a boarding school with both a pool and a team. I often wonder if this hadn’t happened if I still would have become a three time All American in some other situation- no brag, just fact.    

    The other thing that has come up in this regard is the concerns the Athletic Club has over loss of membership and duplication of use. Having been in both pools, I can say that they are both water and walls, and you can get the same workout in either if you want to- if you can find the space to squeeze in and do it. But that being said, what would make all kinds of sense would be that some sort of joint operating agreement could be arranged between the two. The VAC pool could be dedicated to warmer water programs- seniors, kids lessons, water therapy- and the bigger pool to lap swim, teams, various water certifications that are better done in cooler and deeper water. One of the things I talked about for a while back there was even the concept of an aquatics district either in conjunction with or separate from the Parks. I have heard that it is possible the County might be interested in turning Dockton park over to the Island, which was the Island swimming spot for many years. I have also heard and seen how the Island basically turns its back on all water access apart from the ferry docks and the Dockton marina, and the kayak parks. What if, instead of rebuilding Tramp harbor dock for a half million dollars, or what ever it is, a dock or pier were to be built off Burton beach that would allow access to beautiful downtown Burton? This is of course way beyond the concept of covering the pool, but it would emphasize our inevitable connection to the water all around us.

So, what I feel is that while this current effort to cover the pool is laudable, it is a stop gap solution that will mostly benefit the Seals, while possibly ruining the chances of a better and more permanent if it fails to even partially support itself- something that appears to be inevitable given current proposals. I know we were offered a half million dollar matching grant and turned it down because there was a fear, perhaps well-founded, that the match could not be funded in a timely fashion. The thing is, we were not given the chance to try. I thought at the time that the FOVP had a lot of momentum- throwing away that grant opportunity both took away some of the impetus as well as removed some of the trust we had in Parks in their word that they were willing to work with us. It seems that some of that momentum has returned. At the moment the schools are about to ask for more money for a plastic football field and track. What if instead, that money or part of it were used to create a better year ‘round pool that would be of greater benefit and use to the entire community? The school district does, after all, own the pool, as it does the VES fields. What if we did something for the community that didn’t involve fields for a change? For some reason I just can’t imagine there being pirates out there without first having some water for them to pirate on. Just sayin’.