APS squabble stalls popular pool’s rehab

Posted at: 04/14/2014 10:59 PM
By: Ryan Luby, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Families in the South Valley just became victims of a political squabble between the Albuquerque Public Schools and Bernalillo County leaders.  Now, the Rio Grande pool – shared by students at Rio Grande High School and the community year-round – will likely not reopen this summer.

It closed in November after environmental health workers said they could no longer certify it.

“It was generally deteriorating year by year,” Ed Chismar, the Bernalillo County Parks and Recreation Director, said.

He explained that the pool was built in the 1970s and was made of aluminum that corroded more quickly than anyone thought it would at the time.  He said leaks formed which allowed the chemistry of the pool to differ too greatly.

“It’s a safety issue,” Chismar said.

He said his staff hoped to open a new pool by Memorial Day of this year, but said the disagreement between APS and county leaders will undoubtedly delay that.

The county said APS made a “verbal agreement” to pay for $700,000 of the pool’s estimated $3 million rehabilitation costs.  But in a letter from APS Superintendent Winston Brooks to County Manager Tom Zdunek, Brooks explained that he was “unaware of any decision by APS staff or the APS Board of Education to grant the county’s request...”

Neither Brooks nor Zdunek would directly comment on the situation, but KOB Eyewitness News 4 learned that the two are negotiating a compromise.

APS school board member Kathy Korte said she would not vote in favor of the project.  She said it should have been vetted through the district’s Capital Master Plan process last year like other projects were.

“We have a plan, we have a process, and in my opinion, a lot of people dropped the ball on this,” she said. “And my question is -- why in the world do you come to the APS Board Of Education and ask us for hundreds of thousands of dollars at the last minute like this?”

Without the pool project, Korte said the latest budget projections leave the district with a $1.4 million deficit.

An e-mail and phone call to Dr. Analee Maestas, whose district encompasses the Rio Grande pool, were not immediately returned.

Art de la Cruz, the Bernalillo County commissioner for the area, said the pool is vital to his community.  He’s optimistic APS and the county will reach a deal.

“We're going to get this done for the community who needs and deserves this facility,” he said.

According to the county, the demand for the Rio Grande pool is so great that staff members have to divide the pool’s usage into different sessions during the summer.

“It’s crazy.  It’s slam-packed,” Maria Serros, who works in the area, said.  “There were actually three kids that came last week, and they had their swimming trunks on, and their towels.”

“In the summer, I come like every day,” John Alvarado said.

Chismar said there’s a secondary option for a new pool that would cost less, but would still require funding from APS.  And he said it would lack the “bells and whistles” that the desired, $3.7 million dollar option would provide.