More than two dozen local residents attended the Tehachapi Valley Recreation and Park District's board meeting, held on Aug. 19, to make passionate pleas to and offer suggestions on how to keep the Dye Natatorium Pool open for the winter months.
The TVRPD board approved the closure of the pool from October to January last July when it approved its budget. This decision was made based on the considerable amount of maintenance that needed to be done to the facility, staffing and cost-effectiveness, according to District Manager Matt Young.
"I have been a Tehachapi resident since 2005," Pam Lorenz told the board. "Starting in 2010, I was using the Dye Natatorium Pool on a regular basis. When they opened at 5 in the morning, I was there, Monday through Friday, religiously until they closed for major repairs. Since then, my husband, Larry, has had to have back surgery, and he had to lose weight before having back surgery. The pool helped him achieve that goal since that was his only means of exercise. Since that time, my husband has had both of his hips replaced, and again, the pool has been his therapy. It has been his only means of therapy. Walking in the winter is not an option for him. The pool is not just a luxury, it's a necessity in this community."
Pam Pousson calls herself an unofficial ambassador for the Dye Natatorium.
"I am literally half the person I was," Pousson told the board. "I preached the gospel of the pool to anyone who will listen. For the core of us who use this unique facility, it is not an expensive luxury. It is an affordable necessity. It is a lifeline, helping us stay healthier and more active.
"The laws of gravity are suspended at the edge of the water, providing a sanctuary for using exercise more freely and safely," Pousson said. "Tehachapi has invested a great deal of effort and expense to polish its image and present itself as a great place to live and work. I believe one of the most compelling criteria for judging a quality community is identifying how it meets the needs of their most vulnerable citizens. Having access to a year-round pool is vital to our continued well being."
Pousson said she thinks the community can work together to find ways to keep the facility open year-round.
"If we, as a community, can Bark for the Park, perhaps we can devote as much energy and good humor for finding ways to continue to keep the Dye Natatorium open year-round," she said. "What do you say we 'Drool for the Pool?'"
Mary Schultz, a 30 year resident of Tehachapi, commended the board for having a summer pass, and suggested it consider a winter pass.
"There is a way forward without having to cut it," said Don Thiesse. "The focus should be on how to grow the program, make it bigger so the people can make it pay for itself."
Thiesse attributed part of the problem on the operational hours of the pool.
"The hours are not very conducive for families to use the pool," he said. "Most people don't roust their kids out of bed at 5 in the morning to go swim. The hours could change, perhaps, and maybe we could do some other things. There is a way forward, and the way forward isn't by cutting the program. I think it is ironic and extreme to have an indoor pool for inclement weather, and then have it closed during inclement weather. Isn't that a little silly," Thieses said followed by applause from the audience.
Pool supporters said about 60 of those present at the meeting were there on behalf of keeping the pool open year-round. Others speaking brought forward issues very similar to those of Lorenz, Pousson, Schultz and Thiesse.
The meeting's agenda did not include anything related to the pool and board members did not respond to comments by proponents of a year-round pool. However, following the meeting Board President Gayle Stewart established an ad hoc committee that she said will meet at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2 to review the matter and make a recommendation to the full board.
A review of the pool program will be on the agenda for the board's next regular meeting on Sept. 16, Stewart said.
She noted that the ad hoc meeting, which will be held at the district office, 490 W. "D" St., is open to the public. She said it will be most helpful if those who have information they would like the committee to review either send it by email or drop it off at the district office.
Accepting further testimony from pool supporters is not the purpose of the committee meeting, she said.
"They really made their point and it would be counterproductive on the part of the meeting to have 25 people come and repeat themselves," she said.
Stewart and Director Craig Mifflin are they only directors on the ad hoc committee. They will work with Young and other district staff.
Young said that the committee "will re-review all opportunities and challenges, including safety, staffing, programming, planned improvements, and economic concerns that formed the basis for the forthcoming eight-month operational season."
Pousson, in an email to pool supporters following the meeting, said she was encouraged by the showing at the meeting.
While there may be a lot of work ahead, she told fellow supporters "we are starting to change preceptions about the pool, and what it means to the community of Tehachapi."
CLAUDIA ELLIOTT of the Tehachapi News contributed to this story.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The story about planned winter closure in last week's paper contained an error. The Dye Natatorium, built in the late 1960s, has not always been open year-round. Prior to construction of the West Park Activity Center, it was operated as a multi-purpose building with the pool drained and a floor put over it to allow various activities to take place within the structure.