Almanac

News - February 23, 2011

Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline to swim clubs: Play nice

• Council to vote on pool contract in one week.

by Sandy Brundage

The water fight over pool time at the city's aquatics centers may dry up in one week. Team Sheeper and SOLO Aquatics have that long to work out their differences, or the City Council may do it for them.

"Both groups can end up losing," Mayor Rich Cline told representatives from both clubs at the Feb. 15 council meeting. "That's not where you want to be."

The meeting included a lengthy staff presentation by Cherise Brandell and Katrina Whiteaker that clarified several issues regarding how the city calculated break-even costs, lane allotments, and profitability.

Those issues arose after SOLO sent an e-mail to its members that highlighted what it considered misleading information released by the city. For example, the staff report shows that SOLO, with 45 lane hours allotted at the Burgess pools, has more lane time than Team Sheeper's comparable youth program, the Mavericks, which had 42.5.

However, looking at the Mavericks website showed the youth program was scheduled for 61 hours a week — not 42.5.

Fine-tuning the numbers

Why the difference? It turns out the city, using data provided by Team Sheeper, averaged the number of hours Mavericks actually uses each week versus the maximum it could use. But the program, which owner Tim Sheeper says has grown by 35 percent, could expand, while SOLO is limited to the number of hours it can rent.

Ms. Brandell said that's the crux of the challenge with SOLO and Mavericks. "Since the pool is currently at 100 percent capacity, giving more time to any one group inevitably takes away from other uses. Both SOLO and Sheeper have a future vision to expand," she said.

Those other uses include lap swimming for those who just want to swim, instead of participating in a competitive club.

The new contract states that Team Sheeper would pay $3,000 a month to lease the Burgess pools, a $6.8-million public facility; be responsible for all operating costs; and operate the Belle Haven pools for at least three months a year. According to Community Services Director Cherise Brandell's analysis, that would save the city approximately $90,000 a year.

SOLO would get a regular late afternoon practice time five days a week at a discounted rate of $6 per hour. SOLO would also get an equal share of bulletin board space to advertise its programs. During the summer, however, the SOLO program would be scheduled only at Belle Haven.

Suggested changes

On Feb. 3, the Parks and Recreation Commission suggested amending the lease, which is still under negotiation, to include: a five-year lease instead of 10 years, with an automatic five-year extension if everything is going well; financial and operational reviews each winter instead of June, so the review takes place before the busiest swim season; annual presentations from the aquatics users group regarding customer satisfaction; and reserving the right to control 10 percent to 20 percent of pool programming if needed.

The council appeared to agree with those suggestions, and also asked staff to consider raising rates for non-residents; currently swimmers from outside Menlo Park pay only $5 more to use the pools. The contract returns to the council for approval on March 1 at the earliest.

Both Mr. Sheeper and Steve Zanolli, president of SOLO's board of directors, said that the two groups were closer than ever to working out their competing demands.

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