By Tasmin McGill, Guest Contributor
Plans for a revamped aquatic center at Laguna Beach High School were again discussed at a Laguna Beach Unified School Board Study Session on June 27. With five proposed options presented to the board and community members, concerns were voiced about the environmental and fiscal impact surrounding the Ten-Year Facilities Master Plan.
Each plan is projected to cost at least $15-20 million to implement, with ongoing construction for at least 12-19 months before completion. Ultimately, the projects would displace the aquatic programs using the existing pool with no feasible relocation place.
Several options were presented that would require the least amount of construction time, but Laguna Beach resident Laura Giovanni said she does not support any.
“There’s simply nowhere to temporarily relocate our aquatics programs for this timeframe in any neighboring cities that I know of,” Giovanni said.
Community members who live close to Laguna Beach High School shared their concerns about how this project will directly affect them. The potential noise and air pollution were just a few.
To combat noise pollution, concrete bleacher-like seating was proposed and was received well by residents. The idea of Good Neighbor signage was also mentioned, which would alert the neighborhood of when construction was taking place and alert visitors following the project’s completion to the facility’s hours and operation.
“There’s always operational things, and in other things, we can do, like a noise control plan that limits the hours and the days of operation that you don’t start construction before seven o’clock, and you avoid the holidays,” Placeworks Principal Dwayne Mears said. “We’ve all seen noise walls around our freeway systems, so that’s a possible mitigation measure.”
Mears also recommended good neighbor signs that tell visitors what is and is not allowed on the property, such as blow horns and air horns.
The board decided that the last two options proposed would not be considered due to the tennis court relocation that would be required. Laguna Resident Clint Christie pointed out that the first three cause less harm to the environment.
“Option 1A has less environmental impact,” Christie said. “It preserves the tennis courts that are currently there. There’s less disruption, less dust. It’s less wasteful.”
However, the concern remains whether the high school had a true need for an Olympic-size 50-meter pool, considering the steady decline in school enrollment and how this project will ultimately impact the surrounding neighborhoods.
Of the five proposed plans for the aquatic center, two of them call for a 40-meter pool, while the other three call for a 50-meter pool.
“The community supports anywhere from 35 meters to 40, but no more. The reason for that is many, but we hope it’s become clear that a 50-meter size pool is much too big for a community this small,” Laguna Beach resident Steve Brown said during public comment.
Due to the declining enrollment numbers of Laguna Beach High School, community members are concerned that the aquatics revamp is being done for the wrong reasons. Citing the likelihood of Laguna’s high school graduates going on to play professional sports such as baseball, they believe the funding should go elsewhere.
However, Laguna Beach Unified School District Board member Joan Malczewski pushed back on the declining enrollment rate and advocated for the 50-meter pool. Malczewski said that the larger pool allows children of all ages to use the facility for a variety of aquatic sports.
“I want the right pool size for the range of programs that are simultaneously using the pool, with the understanding that we are not trying to bring new people into the neighborhood,” Malczewski said. “We are trying to serve everybody in a community with a long history of aquatics programs.”
A 40-meter swimming pool has an occupancy of 96 swimmers compared to a 50-meter pool with an occupancy of 120. The larger pool would allow multiple practices to take place and get children home at a decent time, but it would also take up a lot of land in the already limited area.
The board members and planners decided to reconvene in the upcoming months after doing additional research to gain an understanding of the logistics of holding multiple practices at once in the pool. They also agreed to reach out to the city in hopes of joining forces and funding to open a temporary pool during construction.