Redondo Union High pool plan draws ire

Surfside Swim Team

Members of the Surfside Swim Team protested the new use agreement with Beach Cities Swim at Tuesday’s school board meeting. Photo by Graham Whitby Boot

A newly launched non-profit swim organization intended to bolster Redondo Beach’s youth water sports programs has been awarded a contract that will give it significant control over the use of the new Redondo Union High School aquatics center.

Beach Cities Swimming, headed by former Hermosa Beach councilman Michael Keegan and his brother Earl Keegan, will manage the use of the RUHS pool during times it is not being used for school classes or by athletic teams. BCS will offer swimming and water safety classes, lap swimming, water aerobics, lifeguard training, and triathlon/open water clinics.

Earl Keegan said the idea for BCS occurred to him during the unveiling of the sparkling new aquatics facility last December. He said that he had a conversation with Olympian swimmer Jason Lezak, who was on hand for the ceremony, regarding the importance of building a swim program commensurate with the state-of-the-art facility.

“He kind of gave me an idea,” Keegan said. “He said, ‘It looks like this a great facility that deserves a great swim program.”

But BSC was not exactly welcomed with open arms by some members of the existing water sports community at the high school. At Tuesday night’s Redondo Beach Unified School District Board of Education meeting, several angry residents urged the school board to reject the BSC contract, which will pay the district $3,500 a month for use of the pool.

Dr. Dennis Hall, the president of the Surfside Swim Team, said that his organization had 42 years experience in the South Bay and felt excluded by the process that resulted in BCS winning its bid to manage the pool.

“We think it’s a bad deal for the community….We think this facility use agreement could end our swim program,” Hall said.

Steve Shaw, a coach at the high school who organized the influential committee that spearheaded the Measure C bond effort, suggested that RUHS coaches could manage the pool and summer swim programs as they have in years past. He calculated, given the tentative schedule that was attached to the use agreement, that BSC would end up paying as little as 58 cents an hour for the facility.

“My concern is I don’t think our staff has been aware of the decision being made here, and really it hasn’t given us the opportunity to consider other things,” Shaw said.

Resident Martha Bettis said the only connection BSC seemed to have with Redondo was a P.O. Box on Artesia Boulevard. She called the agreement a “lose-lose” deal both financially and in terms of access for local residents.

“The RUHS pool is not for sale,” Bettis said.

Resident Gentil Smith said she and her family had waited years for an adequate pool facility.

“Who the hell is [BCS]?” Smith asked, pounding her fist emphatically on the podium. “You need to have the support of the community for what you are doing.”

Earl Keegan tried to ease worries, noting that the schedule attached to the agreement was tentative and that local organizations would have priority access.

“This whole idea came about…to be inclusive with swimming. I want people to be in the pool,” Keegan said, noting that the district could dissolve the contract at any point with 30 days notice.

Michael Keegan contrasted their plan with Mira Costa’s management of its pool, which he suggested was often disorganized and didn’t even include liability and worker’s compensation requirements for instructors who work at the pool.

“We will operate the pool like a business and run it in a professional manner,” Keegan said.

BSC has hired a former University of Pennsylvania swimmer, John Carroll, to head its programs. He is a successful swim club coach who has also coached water polo and trained life guards and also possesses pool management experience.

“I think if there is some patience and if you give this an opportunity and understand what we are trying to build, I think all parties involved will be happy, whether it be the swim teams or water polo clubs that have questions and are anxious about what is going to happen in what is clearly the jewel of the South Bay,” Carroll said.

RUHS athletic director Andy Saltsman said Redondo athletes would have the ultimate priority and that longstanding groups such as Surfside would also be prioritized.

“This pool is special, and the groups that want to get into this pool are really special,” Saltsman said.

Board member Anita Avrick directly assured Hall and the many Surfside Swim Team people in attendance that they would have good access to the pool.

“I can tell you if that does not happen, from my standpoint, [BCS] are going to get their 30 day notice,” Avrick said. “…We hear what you are saying and yes, we want to protect you. You have been around a long time.”

RBUSD chief business official Janet Redella said there appeared to be a misunderstanding regarding the district’s intent in bringing in BCS. She said the whole point was to facilitate community access.

“What we are trying to do is find a partner, someone who is going to partner with existing programs – with our existing summer swim program that we have always had, and to provide access to outside users,” she said. “Now, those users have really lined up in droves…[But] if you were a past user, we would see to it that you had priority access.”

The board approved the agreement in a 4-1 vote, with board president Jane Diehl opposing. Programs commence on June 1.

Even Shaw, who disagreed with the agreement, noted that the heavy interest in the pool was largely a good thing.

“What a nice problem to have,” he said. “I don’t remember having to come to meetings with our old pool to discuss use.”

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