Community activists who have been calling on city and school district officials to open the Olympic-sized pool at the Miguel Contreras Learning Complex to the public during the summer got their wish last Monday.
With the July sun beating down and the school's shimmering aquatic facility as a backdrop, the same city officials who in June said that the pool would be available this summer only to Miguel Contreras students announced that it will instead open to the general public in July and August.
"Today we're building a bridge between our schools and our communities, a bridge that begins by unlocking the gates at Miguel Contreras pool," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose office, along with the city Department of Recreation and Parks and the Los Angeles Unified School District, worked to secure about $50,000 to fund the summer swim program and hammer out logistics tied to opening the facility to the public.
The pool at the $160 million high school, which opened in fall 2006, has been a source of controversy since last summer, when officials could not come up with a plan to provide public access to the facility at Third and Bixel streets in City West.
The closed pool sparked anger largely because it was characterized as a future community asset during the campaign for the bond measure that funded the high school, said Ray Cortines, the school district's senior deputy superintendent.
That anger was rekindled last month when city and district officials announced a plan to open the pool this summer, but restrict its use to Miguel Contreras students. Officials cited security concerns at the school, noting that the locker room is only accessible by entering a school building. School principal Heather Daims opposed opening the facility to the public, saying that it posed risks to summer school students, as well as the students who plan to participate in the summer swim programs.
Ultimately, Daims didn't have a choice, Cortines said.
"Certainly during budget cuts and when you have a brand new school and you work hard to keep it clean, a principal is very protective," said Cortines, who assumed his LAUSD post in April after serving as Villaraigosa's deputy mayor for education. "But when you have 30,000 people in a square mile and they don't have a lot of the opportunities for recreation, you've got to go the extra mile to make sure that this truly is a community school in all aspects.
"In a nice way, I told [Daims] it was what we were going to do."
In order to iron out security concerns, city officials had to put together a funding plan that would pay for the ample staffing necessary to supervise the pool, an adjacent school building and locker rooms.
After initially committing $15,000 in Department of Recreation and Parks funds to cover the summer student aquatic programming, the city now expects to spend close to $30,000. That accounts for the increased staffing, said Chris Espinosa, Villaraigosa's director of capital projects.
In addition to the city money, there is a $15,000 grant from the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, which is led by Maria Elena Durazo, the widow of labor leader - and the school's namesake - Miguel Contreras. The LA84 Foundation, which has funded summer swim programs at other city pools for more than 20 years, also kicked in $5,000. The latter grant will likely be repeated annually, said Patrick Escobar, the foundation's vice president of grants and programs.
"What happened, obviously, is this pool wasn't part of the original pools that were going to be open, and when we heard that it was going to be opened for swim lessons and recreational swimming, we decided to assist them," Escobar said.
Through Aug. 29, the Miguel Contreras pool will offer free swim lessons from 12:45-3:30 p.m. and open for recreational use from 3:30-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. The facility will be open to the public from 1-5 p.m. on weekends.
Robert Garcia, who as executive director of the City Project helped lead the chorus of voices calling for the pool's opening, both welcomed the news last week and lamented that it took so long.
"It's wonderful for the community and for the children that the school system and the Recreation and Parks system has finally listened to the community," said Garcia, whose City West nonprofit advocates for park space in underserved areas. "It's unfortunate that it takes so much pressure to accomplish such an obviously good result, but we look forward to working with LAUSD and city Rec and Parks on joint use of pools and parks throughout the city."
In addition to opening the Miguel Contreras pool, at the July 7 event Villaraigosa and LAUSD Supt. David Brewer signed a long-in-the-works deal to eventually make 10 existing and five new school pools available to the public for summer use in high-need neighborhoods. The agreement establishes a panel that will evaluate the condition of the targeted existing facilities and develop a schedule to improve them, said Paul Escala, who recently left his post as LAUSD's director of joint-use development, where he worked on the pool-access issue, and now serves as director of operations for the nonprofit Partnership for L.A. Schools.
Among the future pools the group will look at is another in Downtown Los Angeles, the facility in the under-construction High School for the Visual and Performing Arts at 450 N. Grand Ave., Escala said.
In the meantime, City West residents will have to share the Miguel Contreras pool with the school's students, many of whom echoed Daims' concerns that public access would pose security and vandalism risks.
Jonathan Ibarra, a member of the Miguel Contreras swim and water polo teams, was against public access last month. But last Monday, he was all smiles as he participated in a symbolic dive off the starting blocks at Villaraigosa's count.
"As a student, it's not that good to bring the community members in because we want to keep our pool clean, but it's for the community," Ibarra said, shortly before diving in. "This is probably one of the most amazing things we have in LAUSD."
Contact Ryan Vaillancourt at email@example.com.
page 1, 7/14/2008
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