Viewpoint - January 19, 2011

Editorial: City sets terms for pool operator

After five years of rent-free operation, the city of Menlo Park is apparently ready to sign a deal with pool operator Team Sheeper for a very modest rent of $3,000 a month, a fraction of what the city had hoped to receive when the proposal was released months ago.

But the Sheeper team also agreed to operate the Belle Haven pool for at least three months a year, which will save the city about $90,000 a year, and pay for utilities, chemicals and other maintenance and repair costs, according to an analysis by Cherise Brandell, the community services director. The 10-year deal includes a fair market rent adjustment in year six and the ability for the city to terminate at any time if Team Sheeper does not meet other specified goals.

And Team Sheeper agreed to improve its communications with the city and prepare an annual report for the Parks and Recreation Commission, which will enable the city to monitor use patterns at the pool.

Taken together, and with some concessions to Sheeper competitor SOLO Aquatics, the proposed 10-year contract is a good deal for the city and the hundreds of swimmers who use the $6.8 million pool. The deal, which must win City Council approval, also sets aside specific practice time five days a week at a discounted rate for SOLO, which meets some, but not all, of the club's goals going into the bidding negotiations.

Tim Sheeper, whose operation of the pool has earned high marks for the five years his club has been in charge, finally will be able to escape critics of the original deal which turned operation of a brand new public pool over to him rent free without a competitive bid. At the time City Council members said the deal was justified because the city could lay off its pool staff.

According to the press release shared by Ms. Brandell, SOLO will be given a late afternoon practice time five days a week at a discounted rental rate, and also will get an equal share of bulletin board space to promote their programs. The city did not agree to bar Team Sheeper from competing directly with SOLO or give the club space for private lessons.

Clear communications about pool operations was lacking last August when a chlorine leak occurred and illustrated the need for the city and pool operator to work together so that swimmers and the public are notified about any dangerous circumstances at the pool. It is our hope that the new contract will provide for a clear protocol of who is in charge when emergencies occur.

Other parts of the new contract include a provision for Team Sheeper to write an annual report for the Parks and Recreation Commission that includes a breakdown of fees and pool time allocations and a provision that the team will share costs of a semi-annual inspection by an external expert.

Other than the glitch over reporting emergencies, we have nothing but praise for Mr. Sheeper's operation of Burgess Pool. Most swimmers are happy, and although SOLO members may have some concerns, overall operation of the pool has been very successful.


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