Meadville Tribune

Local News

January 23, 2013

Swim team supporters raise questions about program's future

CAMBRIDGE SPRINGS — As outdoor temperatures plummeted, Crawford Central School Board’s monthly work session kicked off with a discussion of the future of the local high school swim team, which trains and swims in the heated, enclosed pool at Meadville Area Recreation Complex.

On Feb. 6, Meadville Area Recreation Authority, which operates the MARC, is hosting a public town hall meeting to gather ideas on how the complex can remain fiscally viable in light of the school board’s decision to remove swimming from the district’s elementary and secondary curriculum as of the start of the current school year and to completely eliminate overall financial support for the facility — an annual payment that totaled as much as $262,000 in recent years — from the district’s 2013-14 budget. Although the City of Meadville and West Mead and Vernon townships also provide financial support for the complex, the school district’s contribution has traditionally accounted for approximately 25 percent of the facility’s annual operating budget.

Spokesperson Kim Murphree led a small group of swim team supporters to the board’s monthly work session Tuesday night. The 30-member team consists of swimmers from Meadville and Cochranton high schools as well as PENNCREST School District.

“My goal is to impress upon you the interest we have in the swim team’s survival, a team that has been a vital part of the district since 1943,” Murphree said, “and to ask some questions to provide some clarity in the process of ensuring its continuance.”

Superintendent Charlie Heller and board president Jan VanTuil agreed to respond to the questions, which Murphree also distributed to the board in writing.

Asked if the school district intends to support the team financially next season by providing funding for items including coaches’ salaries, equipment and facility fees, “It is our intention,” Heller said.

As for what provisions will be made if the MARC closes its winter pool operations, “There are other swimming pools in the community,” Heller said, noting that the district will be discussing a fees-for-services arrangement with the MARC. “It doesn’t make any difference who we pay (the fees) to,” he added.

“If the district and the MARC are unable to come to an agreement as to an a la carte usage fee for the various components of the facility, does this put the baseball, tennis, cross country and soccer teams in jeopardy, as well,” Murphree wanted to know.

“Just like there are other pools in the community, there are other of these facilities in the community, too,” VanTuil replied. “We have had conversations with other organizations.”

When Murphree asked if the fees the district would be paying to other facilities plus the cost of busing students to those locations would still be a savings to the district compared to the lump-sum payment to the MARC, Heller noted that no fees have yet been determined.

During the recreation authority’s monthly meeting on Friday, members approved a 2013 operating budget that calls for the pool to be open for the outdoor summer season and also for 15 weeks during the indoor swim team season, which begins in November. However, authority members stressed repeatedly that keeping the pool open during the winter is strictly dependent on sufficient funds being available to maintain the winter operation.

Authority members also expressed hope that ideas generated during the upcoming town hall meeting will be able to be put into effect soon enough to allow the pool to open in November.

The meeting is scheduled for Feb. 6 at 6:30 p.m. in the assembly room at Meadville Medical Center’s Grove Street facility. The meeting is free and open to the public. Organizers have asked that members of the community to “come prepared to be asked for ideas and input, not donations.”

Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by e-mail at mspicer@meadvilletribune.com.

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