Hazen on brink of overcoming sink-or-swim battle to save its pool

June 3, 2011

By Tim Pfarr

UPDATED — 5:55 p.m. June 6, 2011

Did someone say pool party?

Thanks to numerous donations and widespread fundraising, Hazen High School’s pool has nearly escaped closure for the 2011-2012 school year. The campaign came in the wake of school officials finding themselves without $60,000 needed to operate the pools at Hazen and Lindbergh high schools for the year.

As of Newcastle News’ May 31 deadline, fundraising had yielded more than $58,000 in contributions.

“Everyone is just delighted,” said Chris Carlson, Renton Pools Community organizer. “It’s such an important asset.”

Hazen’s public pool — built in 1969 — hosts swim lessons, the WhiteWater Aquatics swim team, the Shadow Seals swim team, the Issaquah Swim Team and the Bellevue Swim Club, as well as the swim teams from Hazen, Liberty and Renton high schools.

The funding crisis began in 2010, when King County transferred ownership of the Lindbergh pool to the Renton School District. Thus, the school district was tasked with maintaining the pool.

“All of the sudden, it was a new line item in the school district’s budget that wasn’t funded,” district spokesman Randy Matheson said.

For the 2010-2011 school year, the city of Renton contributed $40,000 to operate Lindbergh’s pool — $15,000 less than what was needed to keep the pool open. However, community groups picked up the slack, raising funds to overcome the shortfall.

For the 2011-2012 school year, the city pulled its funding, leaving community groups to close a $60,000 gap instead. However, this time, Hazen’s pool was on the chopping block as well. When he heard the news, Carlson volunteered to help.

Carlson’s son graduated from Hazen in 2009 after four years as a member of the school swim team. With his background as a community organizer and experience as an involved parent, Carlson took charge with Renton Pools Community.

Since October, the group has met several times a month to organize fundraising efforts. Countless groups and individuals stepped up to help, including the Bellevue Club Swim Team,* which donated $10,000 to keep the pools open.

The Hazen Booster Club held an auction, the Renton Civic Theatre held a performance of the play “Here on the Flight Path” and the Hazen pool hosted a swim-a-thon, all to raise money for the cause.

At the swim-a-thon May 14 — at which swimmers collected pledges to swim laps —Hazen junior Blake Baxter swam 336 laps. At 25 yards per lap, he swam roughly 4.8 miles.

Baxter swam the first 285 for a dollar per lap from friends and family members, swimming without a break. After he finished, he found a swimmer from Kentridge High School trying to complete more laps than he did.

“She was trying to show me up, so I kind of tried to keep that from happening,” Baxter said with a laugh. “I was feeling pretty good, but after the additional 51, I was pretty dead. I slept really well that night.”

Although his additional laps were not for money, they inspired those in attendance, as he and the Kentridge swimmer swam until the swim-a-thon ended and the pool closed.

“It was pretty cool to see,” said Jen Ben, Hazen pool manager. “He was quite dedicated.”

The swim-a-thon raised $1,200.

Donations were also collected at both pools, with pool users donating as little as $1 and as much as $1,000 at the doors.

Being so close to the goal of $60,000 calls for a sigh of relief, at least for now, as most of the donations flooded in during the spring.

“Back in January, I was biting my nails hoping something would start,” Ben said, adding that she is thankful for the great community support. “Without these pools, people won’t learn how to swim and the drowning rate will go up.”

Although it is almost certain the pools will be funded for the 2011-2012 school year, another round of fundraising will likely be in store for the 2012-2013 year to keep the pools functioning, Matheson said.

However, he said the fundraising goal will likely be less than $60,000, as increases in fees for pool users will help offset the cost.

* This story contains updated information.

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