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Vero High swim team worries about closure of Leisure Square pool


Vero Beach High School swim coach Gavin Ross said Sunday the swimming program’s future could be in doubt if the City Council decides to shut down the Leisure Square pool, where the team trains for its meets.

Closing the city-owned pool, Ross said, would force the team to move its practices to the county-operated Gifford Aquatic Center on 43rd Avenue or the North County Aquatic Center in Sebastian.

Both options present transportation challenges that would be difficult to overcome for many of the team’s 45 swimmers, who began practice last week and were scheduled to open their season on Wednesday.

“We’d have a significant fall off in the number of swimmers or, in a worst-case scenario, the team would simply fall apart – because the school district provides bus transportation, and I don’t know if we could still make that happen if we have to travel to Gifford or the North County pools,” Ross said.

“Most of our kids swim year-round for one of the swim clubs in the area, and they’d simply continue to swim for their clubs,” he added. “But we’d probably lose as many as 20 of the kids who swim only for the high school team.

“The good news is that it appears the city is determined to find a way to keep the pool open.”

According to the city’s Recreation Department, only 400 to 500 people per week use the Leisure Square pool, which costs nearly $195,000 per year to maintain and operate while generating revenues of only $25,000 annually.

Those numbers prompted the City Council to decide during its budget workshops in July to close the pool. But the decision ignited a social-media firestorm and produced an impassioned response from more than 100 protesters who packed the chamber for the City Council’s July 16 meeting.

The council responded by saying its decision wasn’t final and could be reversed before the 2020 budget is approved in September. Confronted by save-the-pool proponents again at last week’s meeting, council members instructed the city staff to recommend funding options that would enable the city to keep the pool open.

“I don’t want to close the pool, but we’ve got to find ways to make it financially feasible,” City Councilman Harry Howle said. “It needs to operate more like a club, perhaps with annual memberships, or offering monthly and per-use rates.

“Also, any cash the school district could kick in would help,” he added. “More than 50 percent of our property taxes go to the school district, and as far as I know, they don’t pay anything for the high school swim team to use the pool.”

Vero Beach High School Athletic Director Lenny Jankowski said he’s monitoring the situation and already is considering options, even though the proposed closing of the Leisure Square pool would not impact the current swim season, which concludes in early November.

Of the high schools along the Treasure Coast, only the private St. Edward’s School and Martin County High School have on-campus pools.

“Leisure Square has been great for us, and it would be a shame if the city closes the pool, but we use it only for practices,” Jankowski said, adding that Vero Beach does not schedule home swim meets because the facility does not meet the criteria required by the Florida High School Athletic Association.

“There are some options we can look at, but transportation could be a struggle if the team needs to travel to Sebastian or even Gifford,” he continued. “The times the swimmers need to get to practices would conflict with the regular school bus routes.”

Ross, who also coaches a swimming club at Vero Fitness, said he’s hoping local philanthropists will come forward with donations to help the city keep the Leisure Square pool open.