CAPE MAY - City officials have pledged to work with Cape May Elementary School to fix its old swimming pool or help get funding to construct a new one. The pool has been closed since September, when major leaks were found in the piping underneath the pool and its sides. School officials have consulted a specialized "aquatic architect" but are still trying to determine whether it is cost effective to repair the problems.
"We'll sit down with the Board of Education to discuss the options we have. It may be more cost effective to replace it," Mayor Ed Mahaney said.
The pool is much more than just a school facility. The school uses it for physical education classes, but before the pool closed, the city was using it for recreation programs six days a week. These include the Cape May Waves swim team, which has children of all ages, senior swimming and open times when any member of the public could swim for a nominal fee.
Mahaney said it was highly unusual in the early 1960s for an elementary school to install a swimming pool. The thinking at the time was that a seaside town should have a strong swimming program, especially for young children, who would be doing a lot of ocean swimming in the summers.
The 40-by-90-foot pool was constructed as the elementary school was built on Lafayette Street. During the past 51 years, generations of children have learned to swim in the pool, and it also has served older residents, including senior citizens, as a place to socialize and get exercise that is easy on the joints.
"Swimming is a lifelong skill. We have an ocean. We should be teaching water safety, basic swimming and have a physical program for adults and seniors," Mahaney said.
With more than half the student body now coming from the Coast Guard base, Mahaney said that adds another reason to have a pool.
"It's essential for Coast Guard kids. Wherever they get transferred, it is near a body of water," Mahaney said.
School Business Administrator John Thomas said the problems with the pool were discovered when the August water bill came.
"We were losing 50 to 60 gallons a day. The galvanized steel piping for the circulation and the drains wore out over time. It's nothing we could have prevented," Thomas said.
With no easy access to those pipes, the aquatic architect has devised a plan to abandon the old piping and come up with a new circulation system.
Thomas said the new system would be a gutter around the pool that water would overflow into before it is recirculated. Thomas said there are other issues, such a decking around the pool and the coating inside the pool. There may be an argument as well for a whole new design.
"We're not sure we need a deep end," Thomas said.
The next step is a Board of Education review of the options. Thomas said a committee may be formed with the school, city and public represented. Thomas welcomes the city's help in finding grant funding, but said there also could be a referendum question at some point. He expects the process to take about a year.
Superintendent Victoria Zelenak said the school would also have a community fundraising campaign. Zelenak said that idea came from fourth-grader Liam Reich. Zelenak said Reich also had the idea of draining the pool and using it for skateboarding.
"He said why not have a fundraiser. I mentioned it to the mayor and he thought it was a good idea," Zelenak said.
In the meantime, the school is shocking the pool with chemicals amid fears that draining it could cause problems, with the high water table in the area potentially pushing it out of the ground.
"It's like the creature of the black lagoon," Thomas joked.
Mahaney noted the city is working on siting a new public park that encompasses the school property. Given the fact that the city uses the pool every day of the week except Fridays, he said they may be able to incorporate a new pool into the park plans.
For now, the Cape May Waves, which has 72 swimmers from elementary to high school age, is using the pool at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May. That pool, however, is not open to the general public.
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