WALNUT CREEK — With the pools on the brink of physical failure, city leaders seek a partner to help rebuild and potentially run the Clarke Swim Center in Heather Farm Park.
With the YMCA and a group supported by city swim teams unable over the last year to reach agreement on building and operating new pools, City Council members said that while they’re disappointed the two sides couldn’t come together, it’s time to figure out who can partner with the city.
“The status quo for that swim center has a very finite life,” said Mayor Kristina Lawson. “The clock is just ticking to when the whole thing is going to be shut down.”
At issue is the aging Clarke Swim Center, which is near failure. The city subsidizes the center, with $400,000 a year. To help take some of the burden off the city, the council wants to explore partnering with community groups, organizations or businesses to not just help pay for new pools but manage the facilities in the future. So the city will send out a request for proposals and see who wants to get into the pool business.
They say they tried to work with the YMCA but in the end the visions are different and swimmers would have to give up too much and pay more for less under the Y’s plan.
The fund leaders instead have partnered with Walnut Creek Forma Gym owner Robert Jackson. They say they can take over Clarke as-is and immediately, and start saving the city money and working toward rebuilding the pools.
They would do this in part by expanding the swim programs and cutting down on staffing costs. Forma Gym would take over the operation at Clarke.
“What the Y’s proposal is truly building a membership based health club,” Jackson said.
We “are trying to operate the facility as is in a way that can reach profitability in a couple of years. My main message is … There is a way to make this work. (Clarke) should at least be able to break even.”
While the problems at Clarke have been known for years, funding has been a problem.
A 2010 aquatics assessment found there is pent-up demand for pool use in Walnut Creek, but estimated the city would have to spend more than $22 million to build a facility that meets that demand.
Swimmers and the city are now looking for a way to fund facilities and replace those that are more than 40 years old. Walnut Creek is nationally known for its swimmers, teams and Olympians, and swimmers come from all over to use Clarke, which sees about 67,000 visits a year.
Jackson argued at the Sept. 16 meeting that the problem is not that Clarke isn’t used or needed.
“I don’t think there is necessarily a revenue problem at Clarke, because you have a lot of users and it’s a rare scenario that you have a substantial amount of revenue coming through Clarke … I think it’s more of an expenditure problem,” he said.
By May, city staff hopes to have responses from the request for proposals and a recommendation to the City Council on which organization or group to work with for operating and rebuilding the pools.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617 or firstname.lastname@example.org