Jose Juan Ibarra, president of the Santa Ynez Valley Union School District board, and Superintendent Andrew Schwab.
Jose Juan Ibarra, president of the Santa Ynez Valley Union School District board, and Superintendent Andrew Schwab participate in a facilities improvement workshop on Tuesday. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

An athlete, a coach and multiple community members urged the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District to support a grassroots effort to replace the dilapidated swimming pool, revealing that the deteriorating facility has caused bloody injuries and other troubles.

On Tuesday night, the district’s board of education held a workshop to discuss facilities and the millions of dollars of projects needed on campus.

Discussions also involved the locker rooms lacking modern features and needing $4 million in upgrades plus a theater that floods and needs new upholstery and more improvements amounting to $1.2 million.

However, the swimming pool, more than 50 years old, and an eight-year grassroots effort to create an aquatics center drew most of the focus during the two-hour workshop.

The Santa Ynez Community Aquatics Foundation has amassed $3.2 million in assets, commitments and contributions toward replacing the competition pool and adding a community pool. That included the much-heralded arrival of the Murtha Pool shells used for Olympic trials and sitting in storage since 2017. The shells likely shaved $1 million off the project cost.

“Our goal all along has been to raise the money needed for a two-pool complex that serves both students and the community,” Community Aquatics Foundation board member Lisa Palmer said. “We’ve kind of capped out until we know what the district’s financial commitment can be or will be in addition to the land.”

The Santa Ynez Valley’s summer weather can be toasty. At Cachuma Lake, high temperatures topping 90 degrees have been recorded an average of 74 days a year, according to the National Weather Service.

No action was taken Tuesday, but the board directed staff to return with a memorandum of understanding for the pool with plans to consider the project and financial contribution this spring.

The to-be-approved agreement will spell out roles and milestones for the district, the foundation and the City of Buellton, which will handle community recreation programs for the pool.

One plan for a two-pool aquatics complex for the Santa Ynez Valley Union School District.

A presentation shown during the Santa Ynez Valley Union School District board meeting reveals one plan for a two-pool aquatics complex on the campus. The Santa Ynez Community Aquatics Foundation is leading efforts to replace the existing pool.

In a letter, Jake Kalkowski, teacher and aquatics coach, urged support for the two-pool proposal, noting the existing pool’s horrible condition.

“Our maintenance department has done a fantastic job of putting lipstick on a pig, but the layers of lipstick are adding up to be a horrible mess,” Kalkowski wrote in a letter read by Athletics Director Ashley Coelho.

Chunks of the pool deck constantly fall off, so the concrete must be reinstalled like a puzzle piece, according to staff and students.

Gaps 1-inch wide have grown between the pool and the deck. Rust spots can be seen in and around the pool. The plaster at the bottom of the pool blisters, leaving sharp, jagged edges in the pool floor.

“Unfortunately, because of this, numerous students have come away from a swim in the pool with lacerations on their feet. This should never be happening,” he said, calling for the current board to act after years of indecision by prior leaders.

School district officials paused at the proposed two-pool project’s price tag of more than $11 million, with $7 million for the competition pool and nearly $3.9 for the community pool. At one time, backers estimated needing to raise $4 million.

Supporters had hoped to obtain a state grant to help defray costs, but the project lost out. COVID-19 also caused the project’s fundraising to stall while cost estimates rose.

Superintendent Andrew Schwab said he initially believed the pool could last another two to three years, but he has changed his mind. 

“It’s very clear we need to do something about our pool. It’s deteriorating,” Schwab said.

The district hopes to get more state funding, but it isn’t banking on enough to cover the immediate projects. 

Among other numbers, Schwab shared there were deferred maintenance projects amounting to $19.5 million over the next 20 years.

Board member Ness Hamaoui asked whether the existing pool could be excavated to remove the shallow end after learning that it hampers athletes’ training. However, school staff said shallow water, whether in the existing pool or a separate one, would be vital for the students learning how to swim. 

One option could be allowing the foundation to utilize district land, use the foundation funds to build the community pools plus the shell for an all-deep pool within the existing pool’s footprint, according to Kyle Abello, Buellton recreation director.

“That might be a compromise that is not so far away in terms of $9 million,” he said. 

Other projects also were on the minds of board members. 

“I really feel it’s important we address the locker room as soon as possible,” board member Tory Babcock said. 

Her colleague Jan Clevenger agreed, but also noted the important role of the theater, which serves as a classroom as well as a site for productions.

Hamaoui said the district needs a foundation, or nonprofit arm, to raise funds for future projects like the theater improvements. 

“The fact we don’t do any real fundraising for the school is crazy,” he said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

A stylized hawk's head on a red background

Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at