Tensions between the city of Burlingame and its local high school district over maintenance of Burlingame High School’s pool have come to a head, with each side alleging the other isn’t doing its part.
The San Mateo Union High School District said in a statement that several of the councilmembers used inappropriate and highly inflammatory language without having all the facts at a Monday night council meeting in accusing the district of poor maintenance of the pool, which the district owns.
The city pays for some of the pool costs in exchange for use of the pool for its recreation programs. According to the statement, the city blamed the district for the decrease in revenue from the city’s community lap swimming program and described the district as “nickel-and-diming” the city for charging it for its share of electrical usage at the pool and all of sudden charging for a trivial expense without any explanation.
“This type of rhetoric does not help resolve issues between two governmental entities and is disappointing,” said the statement signed by Superintendent Scott Laurence and Liz McManus, deputy superintendent of business services. “A simple call to the district for information would have avoided this.”
At the meeting, the City Council voted to give an additional subsidy of $32,000 for the pool, which the Burlingame Aquatic Club, BAC, operates. Under a 1999 agreement, the district allows the city to use the pool to provide community recreation. This, councilmembers said, was a result of poor maintenance. The city also issued a $136,330 subsidy to the BAC for 2014-15. The crux of the issue with the pool recently, and $32,000 cost, was heaters that had gone out on the pool. The heater replacement occurred in February 2013, with the district installing state-of-the-art, energy-efficient Lochinvar heaters, which have a 10-year limited warranty, the release states.
“If the City Council is disappointed by the ongoing need to annually subsidize the BAC, the City Council needs to reconsider its arrangement with the BAC and implement better and stronger oversight of the BAC,” according to the statement.
“They (the district) lost a lot of revenue because the heater was not working correctly,” said Councilman Ricardo Ortiz. “It’s a big messy issue. … We’ve been trying to hash this out for a few years now.”
The city’s entity, BAC, is the group that’s not keeping up with its maintenance duties, according to the district press release. The district informed the city last year that the BAC was not keeping the pool and deck clean and the district intended to take back those tasks, according to the statement.
“The city requested that the district give the BAC additional time to improve,” it states. “Over the past year, the standards of cleanliness have continued to decline. Daily and weekly duties, paid for by the district, are not getting done. As a result, the city was advised on June 12 that the district will assume full maintenance responsibility of the pool and deck area beginning Aug. 1. This will improve the overall appearance and safety of the pool and deck area for community users.”
The district’s use of the pool is minimal, with it using the pool about 10 percent of the time, according to an independent audit by the district. McManus notes the school district doesn’t even use the pool in December, January, June and July, meaning the majority of the time, the city’s BAC uses the 15-year-old pool.
“The money comes to the school district to educate our students,” McManus said. “We aren’t in the position to subsidize a private swim club. The bottom line is during the hours of operation the Burlingame Aquatic Center has very little downtime on that pool.”
The city and district have been trying to work through all the issues and challenges of maintaining a pool, said City Manager Lisa Goldman. Right now, the city and district divide capital costs 50/50 and the city pays 70 percent of maintenance costs.
“The city, once upon a time, was in charge of the maintenance,” she said. “We’re constantly trying to figure out the right way to maintain the pool. It’s a large pool that needs a lot of TLC and it should be some split of the costs of operations and replacing capital.”
Meanwhile, Mayor Michael Brownrigg doesn’t see the district’s decision to send out a press release about the issue as appropriate.
“We were commenting on an agendized item,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s fruitful to conduct a conversation this important through press releases and the media. I look forward to working with the school district on this and other important issues.”
Parks and Recreation Director Margaret Glomstad also noted that that particular pool is a very busy one and the city is trying to work through the maintenance challenges.
The district and city have been meeting both formally and informally for a year and half to try to resolve conflicts regarding pool payments. Councilmembers like Vice Mayor Terry Nagel do think the district isn’t doing its job.
“We’re not given any credit for the two million plus dollars the city has contributed to that project,” she said. “They (the district) seem to keep nickel-and-diming us to pay for more costs and they’re not keeping up with maintenance. I hope we can negotiate an agreement that works for both sides.”
There are others issues associated with the city using the pool a substantial amount more than the district, according to the district statement. A term in the 1999 agreement requires that the maintenance and operation expenses for the district’s and the city’s use of the pool be allocated based on the hours of use. An audit showed that the district has been subsidizing the city’s use of the pool by not passing on the city’s electrical usage. For this reason, the district notified the city’s Parks and Recreation Department in September 2013 it would be installing an electrical meter at the pool so that electrical usage could be accurately calculated and allocated between the district and city, according to the district.
“The Burlingame High School pool is a district asset and the district will continue to act as a careful steward of this asset,” according to the statement. “Certain councilmembers may consider this a ‘trivial’ matter, but the district does not. Under the 1999 agreement, the city is required to pay its fair share for use and maintenance of the pool, and the district will continue to ensure it does.”
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