The Molalla River School District will re-open the Molalla Aquatic Center for MHS swim team use

PIONEER FILE PHOTO - The Molalla High School swim team, shown at practice, above, in 2014, will be able to dive back into their hometown pool after being locked out for two seasons following the city's closure of Molalla's aquatic center. The school district is now reopening the center for use by the MHS swim team and some elementary school swim lessons. 
After two seasons of not being able to use their own swimming pool right across the street, the Molalla High School swim team gets to come back home.

Next month, the Molalla River School District will open Molalla’s aquatic center that was shut down by the city of Molalla in September 2014.

For two years, the MHS swim team was forced to bus over to Woodburn up to five days a week for practice, and was unable to host any swim meets. As a result, the swim team’s numbers dwindled nearly to the point of not having a team at all.

Melissa Georgesen, head coach for the Molalla swim team, said that when the high school team used the Molalla Aquatic Center, she had between 15 to 25 swimmers come out for the team.

“When the pool closed, the team was basically cut in half,” Georgesen said. “Sometimes we’ve had to practice late at night, so I would have to drive the kids myself to Woodburn. It was horrible.”

Last season, the Indians had eight swimmers in total. Georgesen is hoping to have 20 turn out this season, now that the pool is open again.

“It’s pretty much priceless to be offered the opportunity to swim there again,” she said. “I have one senior returning, and she has been absolutely over the moon about it because she got to swim here as a freshman, and her sophomore and junior year she had to bus to practice, but now she gets to come back for her senior year.

“To me, that’s what it’s all about: being able to be there for the kids like that,” Georgesen said.

To add icing to the cake, Molalla will also host the Special District 2 district swim meet in February, an event that District Superintendent Tony Mann said will be very beneficial for local businesses.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration that there will be over 100 different people in the community, both athletes and their families, for that event,” Mann said. “There was discussion at the [school district] board meeting [Oct. 13] that was very appropriately excited about what this means for our community and that local business and restaurants and such would benefit from this.”

The decision

While the pool is expected to open for the start of the swim season on Nov. 14, it will only be open for school district uses, meaning the public will not be able to use the pool recreationally.

This is due to the fact that all operations will now fall onto the Molalla River School District itself, whereas the city of Molalla operated the facility prior to the closure.

The aquatic center has always been a school district owned property.

A contract between the school district and the city called for the district to provide the land and pay for construction of the pool and the city to operate the center and its functions.

“The city’s finances got to a place where they couldn’t keep it open for public use,” Mann said.

“But the board and district recognizes that it’s a public asset and a district resource, and we have an obligation to take care of that, so we reached an agreement with the city where we would take over the facility itself.”

Mann said that the district facilities team has brought the pool online and that the water quality and other essential functions of the building are ready to move forward, but that there is one air handling unit on top of the building that currently does not function. Mann said that the district has moved aggressively to get it up to par, and that they’ve had to take broken or failed parts and either replace or ship them off because of foreign manufacturing in the system.

“We’re doing the due diligence, and based on what we’re getting by way of assurances from various vendors, we’ll have all those pieces in place by the first part of November,” Mann said. “Once that [piece of equipment] is up and running, the facility is slated to be fully operational.”

In addition to the pool being used by the MHS swim team, a single grade of elementary students will be able to participate in swim lessons later this winter, Mann wrote in an email.

He said that parents will learn more in the coming months from their respective schools.

Mann said that throughout this year, the school district has been collecting data on the costs associated with pool operations. He said it includes data on all expenses as well as revenues that come to the district from hosting swim meets. Mann was unable to provide total operational cost figures for the aquatic center, but a September 2014 Pioneer article said that the city of Molalla had in place a $4.75 monthly fee on local residents as a primary source of funding for the facility.

Mann said that the data collected will be important as the school board moves into budget preparations for the 2017-2018 academic year.

No impact on the school bond measure

While the aquatic center is owned and is now operated by the school district, since its primary function is athletic, it will not be affected by the upcoming school bond measure next month.

“This bond focuses on four pillars: enrollment, safety, a new middle school, and protecting community investment in local schools,” Mann said. “The long-range planning committee and facilitates task force looked at district facilities around our primary missions of teaching and learning, and the focus was on school buildings.”

Mann said that the school district has to be able to respond to increasing enrollments in local schools as all schools are fully occupied, and there is not one single open classroom available.

He also said that safety is a key focus of the MHS redesign, with an improved security entrance, as well as camera systems being integrated districtwide in all schools.

Mann then commented on the need for a new middle school, saying that the benefits of replacing the failing building far outweigh continued operations of a facility with a boiler and heating system, for example, that was constructed in the 1950s and no longer manufactures replacement parts.

Finally, Mann said that the school district’s main priority is to protect the community’s investment in all of the district’s schools.

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