Courtesy Singer AssociatesThe public pool at Burlingame High School is at the center of a debate between the school district and the city over how much each should pay for pool operations.

School district, city consider next moves in dispute over Burlingame High pool

Disagreements over use and maintenance costs have made Burlingame High School’s swimming pool the focus of a community argument.

On one side of the debate is the San Mateo Union High School District, which has asked the city of Burlingame to pay for a larger share of the pool’s upkeep and allow its student-athletes more space and time in the pool. On the other side is a Save Our Pool coalition, whose members dispute the district’s claims about facility use and costs, and believe administrators are trying to restrict the public’s access to the pool.

District officials recently said they might resort to litigation if the city refused to pay a larger share of the pool’s costs, but they now appear to be backing down from that position. In a closed session, the district board of trustees voted to create a special committee to study the contentious issue and determine whether it might be resolved in mediation.

Constructed in 1999, the 50-meter-long, 20-lane facility is the only publicly accessible Olympic-size pool between Palo Alto and San Francisco. An anonymous donor contributed $1.2 million to the pool’s construction, with the city providing $1.6 million and the school district devoting $300,000 to the project.

The nonprofit Burlingame Aquatic Club runs the facility, with the city paying for 65 percent of the maintenance costs.

At issue is the school district’s claim that, according to a recent audit, its students are using the pool only 9 percent of the time, yet the district is paying for 35 percent of the pool’s upkeep. The district has asked the city to begin covering 91 percent of the pool’s operational costs.

But the city counters that, according to its own audit, public use of the pool now accounts for about 69 percent of pool time, rather than the 91 percent the district is claiming. The city therefore says it should only cover 69 percent of the pool’s operating budget.

In addition to possibly suing the city, the district has also suggested that if Burlingame doesn’t shoulder more of the pool’s costs, it might sharply reduce the pool’s hours of public operation.

But according to Adam Alberti, a spokesman hired by the anonymous donor who helped fund the pool’s construction, the terms of his $1.2 million gift stipulated that the school district would cover 35 percent of the pool’s operating expenses, and the spirit of that agreement is not being honored.

District Deputy Superintendent Elizabeth McManus argued that aquatic club membership has increased “substantially” in recent years, and the city has therefore used more pool time. The original operating agreement said the percentage of the city’s financial contribution would equal the percentage of pool time used by the city, McManus claimed, so if the public is using the pool 91 percent of the time, the city should pay 91 percent of the bill.

“It’s not like we’re asking for anything outside the terms of the agreement,” McManus said.

Speaking to The San Francisco Examiner on the condition of anonymity, the donor, who describes himself as “a finance guy,” said he grew up swimming in public pools built by philanthropists, and he helped pay for the Burlingame pool so the entire community would have access to such a resource.

The donor added that he strongly disagrees with the 91 percent city usage figure cited by the school district.

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