July 9, 2002

The Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred will attempt to pressure the Brandywine School District to provide more public access to its indoor swimming pools while taking advantage of a new state law which will allow it to recoup all the cost of doing so.

Jerry Martin, chair of the umbrella civic association's education committee, said that he and Jack Wells, a frequent critic of some of the school district's fiscal policies, have long maintained that Brandywine has short-changed itself when it came to making the pools available to outside organizations.

The issue is the main item on the agenda for the council's July 11 meeting. The session will be held, beginning at 7 p.m. in the community building in Brandywine Town Center.

Team Delaware, a private nonprofit organization of competitive swimmers, for instance, has had a long-standing agreement to use the pool at P.S. du Pont Intermediate School and was charged a rate which did not cover the expense of keeping the pool open, he said. The outside organization used the pool 59 hours a week during the school year while the district used it 45 hours over the course of the entire year, he added.

The same organization, he said, uses the pool at Concord High School during the summer and is charged $3 an hour plus the cost of having a custodian there. The city's recreation program uses the P.S. one during the summer under a 'quid-pro-quo' agreement which provides no direct income to the district.

In setting a revised fee schedule for outside use of school facilities earlier this year, the school district interpreted state law as limiting it to seeking reimbursement from nonprofit organizations only to cover the cost of heating and lighting the pool area.

"It was interesting to note that under the same old law, Red Clay [School District] charged $30 rental, plus charges for a pool manager, custodian, and a life guard which they furnished," Martin said. That amounted to $68 an hour to use the pool at McKean High School, an amount which he said about matched the going rate in the Wilmington area. The Y.M.C.A. charges between $70 and $90 an hour to groups, including private schools, for pool use.

Legislation enacted on the last day of the General Assembly session under the co-sponsorship of Brandywine Hundred Representative Greg Lavelle and billed at a 'clarification' of the law permits, but does not require, school districts to set fees for use of facilities for other than commercial purposes which recover identifiable costs. The revised law eliminates a requirement that fee schedules have to be approved by the state Department of Education.

Martin said he is uncertain whether Brandywine will retain its present policy or increase its fees.  It could also decide to charge nothing, but he said he thinks that unlikely in light of the district present financial system.

He and Wells, who lobbied for the new law in both the Assembly and during drafting by DelDOE, have proposed, with the civic council's support, that the Brandywine board establish a committee to look at the pool situation before acting and then establish a separate public-use policy for pools. Existing policy covering use of other school facilities "is probably okay," he said.

Part of the pool study, he added, should include the issue of access, not only for organizations but also the general public. "I know that two mornings a week, the Arthritis Foundation uses Concord. Other than that, I knopw of noopen swim time at [either] of the pools," he said.

That will become an even-stronger issue when the pool at Claymont Intermediate School is refurbished and reopened. That work is included in the district's current school renovation and modernization program. Years ago when the Claymont school was a high school, there was some public swimming there.

Claymont will be the fourth pool in the district -- the other is at Bush School -- which compares to oen in both the Red Clay and Christina districts and none in the Colonial district. A state aquatic center has long been planned at Bellevue State Park but that project appears to be dormant.

Members of the public should be required to pay at least a nominal costs-covering fee to use the pools, he said.

Another consideration are safety and liability issues, Martin said. Outside organizations furnish their own lifeguards but there is no indemnification policy specifically covering pool use, he added. A near drowning this summer at P.S., may be a 'wake-up call' in that regard, he said.

2002. All rights reserved.

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