180912_POOL01

Swimmers practice in the Milton High School pool in September. The school district plans to close the pool in March because of problems with its HVAC system. District officials have been aware of the pool's issues for nearly 10 years.

Any school district wondering how not to plan for the future should consider the pending closure of the Milton High School pool.

School officials say they intend to close the pool in March, though perhaps reams of duct tape could keep it running a few more months. Regardless, the pool never needed to deteriorate to this point.

District officials say the closure should come as no surprise, but both they and the Milton School Board share blame for this situation. District officials and several board members thought building a new high school would solve their problems, despite many signs suggesting a new high school lacked support. Voters twice rejected referendums not because they don’t want a functioning pool but because they don’t want a new school.

The lesson for other districts to contemplate is this: Work with what you have and don’t get too focused on the shiny new building you hope to get. Develop and be ready to execute plans for keeping vital district assets operational.

The Milton School District learned 10 years ago the pool required an overhaul, and that was the time to act. A study released in June 2018 only reinforced what officials already knew, placing the fix-it price tag at $1.2 million.

Last year’s Ramaker & Associates report portrays almost every part of the pool as outdated and/or in disrepair. The source of the pool’s current headaches, the HVAC system, isn’t only a problem because it’s breaking down. It’s also wedged behind walls, making it difficult to access.

The district’s maintenance crew has extended the pool’s life beyond reasonable expectation. The pool’s pending closure isn’t a maintenance failure but a political one.

Distrust and finger-pointing pushed the pool to the breaking point, and distrust and finger-pointing continue to drive some people’s reactions to news of the pool’s pending closure. They wonder why the district is closing the pool one month before an expected April referendum asking voters to approve $59.9 milling for a new pool and other upgrades.

School officials deny the closure has anything to do with drumming up support for a referendum, but the fact that we’re having a conversation about ulterior motives highlights the depth of dysfunction underlying the district’s decision-making process.

If an April referendum passes, the district will get money to fix the HVAC system, though the pool requires many other repairs, according to the Ramaker report. The district is hoping to keep the old pool running just long enough to build a new one, which could take a few years.

If an April referendum fails (a possibility given the district’s recent history), the school board’s task will become even more unpleasant, raising the prospect of Milton High School losing its pool for good.

Whatever happens next, it will be the consequence of years of inaction and poor planning.

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