Jul 13 2012

Changes and Challenges for the Piedmont Swim Team

City and Team Both in Transition Over Pool Use-

On Monday, July 16, the City Council will consider a new, six-months lease for the Piedmont Swim Team’s (PST) use of the city pool, increasing the team’s fee through December from $8,250 to $9000.  The one-year contract between the City and the team expired June 30, 2012.

According to Recreation Director Mark Delventhal, “The short-term extension is based upon both the Swim Team and the City being in a transition phase. The Swim Team is in the process of recruiting new coaches while the City, as we all know, continues in the process of assuming management of the pool and transitioning to a public facility.  Therefore, both parties agreed that a long term agreement at this time did not make sense.”

The team’s new schedule:

The City will also allow use of additional lanes in the main and medium pools when they are available.

Meanwhile, the team’s longtime coaching staff is leaving town at the end of the summer and planning to start a new swim team in Albany, which has a newly remodeled, 10-lane outdoor pool. Approximately 15 of the PST’s 105 members (most of whom live in Berkeley or Oakland) are expected to follow the coaches to Albany.

According to Leslie Pannell, president of the PST Board, “The team is practicing in Albany this summer, and it takes anywhere from 25 – 45 minutes to get there during commute hours, which is not acceptable for most Piedmont families.” She said that the overwhelming response from a survey of current team members “is that it’s important to have a team IN Piedmont that kids at all levels can walk to.”

The problem is providing enough of the pool’s six lanes for the team’s 2.5 hours of daily practice time. Since the City took over management of the pool a year ago, the team has been restricted to 3 lanes, resulting in multiple swimmers in one lane.  Pannell said because of this, “we are now looking to shrink the team to 80 members to maximize the swim experience of the kids on the Team and not have 8+  kids swimming in one lane at any given time.”

The City did offer the PST all 6 lanes for 2 hours, from 3 to 5 p.m., but the team turned it down. (This proposal included giving the High School team all 6 lanes from 5 to 7 p.m., and lap swimmers from 7 to 9 p.m. The latter also objected to this proposal.)

Pannell said “PST would like to work more closely with the Recreation Department to develop synergistic swim programs that meet both organizations’ revenue needs and objectives.”  She said PST originally planned to expand the team to the point where they could rent the entire pool during practice, but to do that, they would have to take less skilled swimmers, which she said, competes with the Rec Department’s plans to expand its own swim program. During contract discussions, Pannell said, “This growth was seen by the Rec staff as cannibalizing their plans to grow their lesson revenues by expanding it to more skill levels.”

If the PST reduces the team size, its revenue will shrink accordingly, limiting its ability to rent additional pool space.  Pannell said, “Our fee structure is competitive with the market, and although we plan to raise fees slightly for the Fall Quarter, we cannot significantly raise them without pricing ourselves out of the market. “

Pannell said PST historically had a good relationship with the Swim Club and for the most part, co-existed well.  “With the change to City management,” she said, “we have a good relationship with the Rec Department management, but the budget constraints that they are forced to work under has impacted the team’s access to the pool and has become increasingly restrictive.

“Without increased lane access, we are becoming a team that grows good competitive swimmers only to see them leave when their skills reach a level where they lap other swimmers in their workout lanes due to lane overcrowding, or they simply need to seek a larger competitive peer group to swim with.   Coaches wishing to develop and grow a team want to keep swimmers, not develop them for another program to profit from.   It is still too early to tell, in our Coach search, however we are concerned this will impact our ability to find a seasoned, good caliber head coach.”

It is Delventhal’s job to grapple with balancing the PST’s needs with those of lap swimmers and recreational (individual and family) swimmers —  who support the pool’s operations — as well as accommodate the Piedmont High School swim team and water polo team, which do not pay for use of the pool.   “We’re doing all we can to fashion a solution with the Swim Team,” Delventhal said. “There is talk of merging the Rec Department swim program and the PST. We are interested in that and want to work together, but not now.” He added, “We will have a Swim Team here, no matter who runs it.”

Leave a Comment