Janesville29.4°

Some lap swimmers out a pool

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Marcia Nelesen
November 6, 2013

JANESVILLE--The splash following a recent Janesville City Council decision to eliminate in 2014 evening swimming at a local school has some questioning public access to public facilities.

Night lap swim at Marshall Middle School—morning lap swim will remain—fell victim to an agreement signed in 2012 between the city and school district that has had “unintended consequences,” Acting City Manager Jay Winzenz acknowledged.

A decision by the Craig High School varsity golf team to use the private Glen Erin Golf Club as its home course rather than the public Riverside Golf Course also became part of the equation.

Before the 2012 agreement, the city and district shared use of facilities and no money changed hands.

The 2012 agreement required the city and school district to set fees and charge each other for facility use. At the end of each year, one paid the difference to the other.

Former City Manager Eric Levitt, reached in Simi Valley, Calif., said he promoted the 2012 agreement to make program costs transparent and ensure that one entity didn't subsidize the other. The agreement included higher fees for the use some higher-cost facilities, such as the ice arena and pools.

When costs were compared, they were pretty much “break even,” Levitt said.

Keith Pennington, chief financial officer for the school district, said he suspected city officials thought school programs had been using city facilities more than the city was using school facilities.

“Obviously, it didn't work out that way for them,” he said.

Last year, the city paid the district $4,000 for the use of school facilities.

Winzenz said use would have been a wash if the Craig golf team had not switched to Glen Erin and had instead used a city golf course.

Winzenz said the city had agreed to sponsor the lap swim program before the 2012 agreement because swimmers balked at paying the $50-an-hour fee charged by the district.

The city was left to pay the $50 hourly fee under the agreement.

About 75 people participate in lap swim, and the district charged the city $25,562 for lap swim during the 2012-13 school year. When the council looked to make cuts, Councilman Matt Kealy pointed to the $334 subsidy per lap swimmer.

Swimmers also pay the city $3 per swim, or $65 for 25 swims, to help cover the cost of a lifeguard. Before the 2012 agreement, the city cleared about $1,000.

Some swimmers say the city and school district charging each other for facility use feels like “double dipping” because the same taxpayers pay for all the facilities.

Swimmers say the five large school pools are best for their sport. Other pools in the city—at the YMCA and a private athletic club—are too small and too warm.

Jan Compton has been swimming laps for 14 years, the last six at Marshall.

Usually, about a dozen swimmers attend and sometimes other swimmers must wait.

Compton wondered why other communities can offer better swim programs, noting the Milton School District's swim program is year-round and cheaper. Milton also offers family swim.

“I certainly understand there's a cost to run that pool,” Compton said. “But I also feel that it's a pool that's going to be heated and lit and sitting there empty if we're not able to use it. It's a cost no matter what.

“Ultimately, we pay school tax, we pay city tax. You feel like you've paid for it once.”

“Part of our frustration is, it just seems like there's not many of those programs available to the older people who swim who have health issues, and swimming is the only thing we can do.

“I guess, (it just seems), we should be a community.”

Lap swimmer Jenny Wimmer lives next to Parker High School and said she often sees the schools' pool go unused.

“They're beautiful pools,” she said. “The temperature is nice, they are well-maintained. And nobody's ever in them.”

The Gazette asked the school district for details of pool use by students, but the only information made available by press time came from Franklin and Marshall middle schools. There, boys and girls teams swim after school until 5:30 p.m. from Oct. 14 to Jan. 30. Seven home meets during that period are scheduled until 6:30 p.m.

Steve Knox is a lap swimmer and a member of the city's leisure services committee.

“I look at it in a very simplistic way,” Knox said. “If a person lives in the school district, and the person lives in the city of Janesville, and they are lap swimmers, they're going to be charged three times: in city taxes, school taxes and users' fees.

Knox said he believes the city and school district will work together to find some solution, and suggested the help of a facilitator to “make programs work together for the benefits of the community.

“Let's look what's right for the citizens rather than double-dip,” Knox said.

After lap swimmers complained, Janesville School District Superintendent Karen Schulte wrote on her blog the district would “welcome the discussion as there could be opportunities involving all programs that could benefit all parties.

“The School District of Janesville is and remains a committed community partner and works to make our community a better place,” she said.

The school district, for example, promised community members the use of new field houses in 2007 if a $70 million referendum passed to build them. The facilities are open to the public Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6 to 7 a.m.

Both district and school representatives have said they would meet again to talk about revising the 2012 agreement. Whether that comes in time to save night lap swim is unknown.

HOW MILTON DOES IT

MILTON--Some lap swimmers wonder how Milton, a smaller community, can offer a better and less expensive program than larger Janesville.

Milton's one pool is in the high school.

But lap swim is year round Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 7 a.m.

Cost is $3 each time or $60 for four months.

Brian Hammil, Milton School District activities director, said the district is in its third year of a program created to manage school and community programming in school facilities.

The city of Milton does not have a department dedicated to recreation.

School-sponsored athletic programs and other local organizations as approved by the school board do not pay fees to use the facilities, according to the district website. Those groups often donate back to the district by improving facilities, Hammil said.

Non-youth groups, such as people sponsoring yoga or Jazzercize, are charged a small fee, he said.

Indoor school facilities are booked seven days a week during the school year, Hammil said.

The local youth Milton Marlins, for example, use the pool after the school children. Family swim is offered in summers when space is available. Adult volleyball is Wednesday nights.

The school district also owns Schilberg Park and rents out the facility for such activities as wedding receptions, graduation parties and tournaments.

“We're not going to make enough money to build a new pool,” Hammil said.

But, “We want people talking … about how great it is to be able to use the facilities that we have.

 “That's just the kind of community we have,” Hammil said. “The school district is the community center … That's where our investment is in.

“Our kids.”



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