Parents push bid for pool repairs

High school swim team using facilities in another district

A group of Cambria Heights School District parents are hoping to restore the high school swimming pool that failed inspection and is not included for repair in a $25 to $27 million high school renovation.

Superintendent Michael Strasser estimates repairs to the 1970 pool and its building infrastructure would cost $4 million and take the renovation budget over the school board’s target cost for the project going out to bid this month.

In addition to giving the swim team a home, the pool had been used for physical education classes and was also open to the community.

The Johnstown YMCA operated evening programs there. How­ever, that affiliation ended a few years ago because of a drop in participation, Strasser said.

One of the parents who wants to renovate the pool, Nancy Behe, foresees it providing many community services including life guard training, hydrotherapy and a renewed partnership with the YMCA for swim lessons.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Behe said.

Behe is one of about 15 residents who have ad­dressed the school board during recent meetings about reopening the pool. The board responded by forming a pool committee that met with the community and administration.

The school board is going to issue a statement on the renovation during its next meeting, scheduled for

7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the middle school, Strasser said. The statement will include the status of the pool.

The Cambria Heights boosters are preparing petitions, seeking pledges from businesses and health and wellness facilities to demonstrate community interest in renovating the pool, Behe said.

Behe’s daughters are eighth-graders, but the pool was closed last year before they could join the team.

Now that the pool is closed, Cambria Heights rents Central Cambria School District’s pool and provides transportation. But it’s a 30-minute commute each way for practice, Behe said. Students get home at 9 p.m. and miss out on social opportunities because of the drive.

There are 14 students on the team between Cambria Heights and Penn Cambria.

In the pool’s last year of operation, Cambria Heights entered a co-op with Penn Cambria High School.

Behe said she has appointments to discuss state and federal grant opportunities to reopen the pool. She is working to set up meetings with Reps. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown and Jim Rigby, R-Johns­town, Sen. Wayne Langer­holc, R-Cambria, and U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thomp­son, R-15th District.

“Grants are there to fund the pool, but the board needs to commit interest,” she said. “I will be asking the board how committed they are during this month’s board meeting.”

The swim team roster has dipped since the pool closed, but the number of students participating on the swim team has not been good for several years, Strasser said.

“For whatever reason, interest has declined,” he said. “We would love to renovate the pool, but it’s all going to depend on fi­nances, and we are at a standstill now.”

The school board is preparing the second phase of its high school project to go out to bid this month.

“We want to see where the bids come in and whether there is leftover money that can help us afford the pool,” Strasser said.

Strasser said the board favored limiting the renovation to academic areas only, which is why the pool was not included when the board planned the renovation over the past couple of years.

“Right now, we are looking to borrow between $25 and $27 million to renovate the school’s roof, windows, doors, heating system and add all new electric and plumbing,” he said.

The project also involves relocating the cafeteria to where the tech-ed programs are currently so that food no longer has to be transported. In addition, the relocation of the tech-ed to the cafeteria area will create a science, technology, engineering and math commons.

The project is hoped to be completed for the start of the 2020 school year.

The school board already had to raise taxes to afford the renovation plan as it stands, Strasser said.

“We started raising taxes by 2 mills a year in 2017-18 to budget for the renovation,” he said. “We are two years into a five-year increase and have raised taxes to the maximum allowed by the state without going to a referendum. That’s how we arrived to the amount we want to spend.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.