Patrons of the Sandwich Community Pool will soon be able to dive back into the high school pool for their early morning swim. In a reversal from just two weeks ago, the school committee voted Wednesday night to reopen the pool for adult use during the morning.
The motion, as presented by committee member Marie A. Kangas, allows patrons to use the pool for a couple of hours in the early morning, starting at 5 AM and ending at an appropriate time to be determined by Sandwich High Principal Ellin J. Booras and Sandwich Community School Director Lance D. Kennedy.
At their September 12 meeting, the board split 3-3 on a request to reopen the pool after it had been closed over student safety concerns. Without a clear majority, the motion failed to pass.
At that meeting, board members who voted against reopening the pool cited concerns expressed by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). The association had previously cited the school for allowing adults who had not gone through criminal background checks access to student areas. Half of the committee members who attended that meeting were not convinced by Ms. Kangas’s assertion that the committee’s own pool task force, of which she is a member, had addressed all the safety issues.
The pool was initially closed to adults in late March 2011 after a parent complained that her child was sharing locker room and shower space with adults during school hours. A pool task force came up with the idea of building cabana changing rooms on the pool deck and locking the doors to the locker room as a way to separate adults and students.
Under that scenario, adult pool patrons would still access the pool by going through the school, a problem that might jeopardize the school’s accreditation with NEASC.
Over the summer, another solution was created in which community school patrons accessed the pool deck through an emergency exit located at the rear of the wing housing the pool. That solution proved to be workable throughout the summer, but the school administration decided it was not viable with the return of students. As a result, the pool was closed during morning hours to the community school.
Wednesday night’s vote came after nearly an hour of sometimes heated debate over a specific issue. At the center of the controversy is the safety of the students at the high school, and whether adults should be using the pool instead of students when money to pay for utilities and pool chemicals costs is coming out of the school district budget.
“Our primary mission as school committee members is for the safety and education of children,” Andrea M. Killion, school committee chairman said.
Committee member Robert P. Catalini said that the possibility of adults wandering the halls of the schools as early as 4, 5, or 6 in the morning is an issue for him.
“From the minute a student walks into this building, whether it’s 6 in the morning for extra help or 8:30 at night for basketball practice, if there’s students in the building I feel that security has to be consistent from start to finish,” he said.
Ms. Kangas told the committee that with the solutions that the pool task force has created over the past two years, students are safe. She listed the locker room doors being locked, and the use by adults of a rear entrance door onto the pool deck as examples of ways in which the board’s pool task force has established student safety.
“Do we not understand that these safety issues that were a problem in 2003 are no longer a problem,” she said. Ms. Kangas also pointed out the economic loss the town could face with adult patrons going to other towns for their early morning swim. “They’re purchasing products in other towns, not Sandwich,” she said.
Ms. Killion said that the school board’s chief function is not for the economic benefit of the community school, a statement with which Ms. Kangas also took issue.
“We have a responsibility to make sure that the community school progresses just as well as any other department that is under our guide,” she said.
Superintendent C. Richard Canfield told the committee that he envisions offering an early morning swim program for high school students, and Ms. Killion said that the board’s responsibility is to students, not adults.
“I don’t think it’s right…that we limit our opportunities for our students for the benefit of adult education using K-12 dollars,” Ms. Killion argued, pointing out that such action would be against Massachusetts General Law.
Ms. Kangas countered by saying that the school budget also funds the heat and electricity costs incurred by the recreation department when their programs use the high school. “They pay for a custodian, maybe, but we pay for them to utilize the building, what’s the difference?” she asked.
In a change of sentiment, Susan B. Sundermeyer said that she could not vote in favor of the motion as presented by Ms. Kangas. Ms. Sundermeyer said that she voted in favor of the previous motion to open the pool because it addressed the issue of how people in wheelchairs would access the pool area. The earlier motion stated that those patrons would enter through the main entrance of the high school, check in at the community school office and have an employee escort them to the pool area. Ms. Sundermeyer said that the new motion did not address that situation, and “whether that happens at 5 AM or not, I don’t know.” She said that she would prefer to hear directly from the community school on that issue before she would vote in favor.
Anita M. Johnston told the committee that she did not see any difference between having adults use the pool after school and having them use it before school. “As long as they’re not coming during school,” she said.
After nearly an hour of debate, Mr. Catalini made a motion to move the question, which was passed. Ms. Kangas, Nancy A. Crossman, Ms. Johnston and Travis M. Andrade, in a switch from his vote two weeks ago, all voted “yea.” Ms. Killion, Mr. Catalini and Ms. Sundermeyer voted “nay.”
Mr. Andrade said that his change in vote was based chiefly on the time of day that adult patrons would be accessing the building. He said that adults currently use the pool in the afternoon, and giving them access during the early morning will not pose a threat to students
“If we’re going to allow 4 to 6 PM, we might as well allow 5 to 7 AM,” he said.
Mr. Kennedy was not available for comment before deadline. Wendy Pierce, the community school’s pool coordinator, said that she had not had a chance to meet with Mr. Kennedy and Dr. Canfield to discuss the logistics of reopening the pool to adult patrons.