By Marion Vendituoli
The normally clear water at the Patagonia Pool is now a murky green due to a broken filtration system that may cost up to $50,000 to fix, putting into question whether the pool will reopen this summer.
Photo by: Marion Vendituoli

The Patagonia pool faces an uncertain future as the school district looks for ways to repair a broken filtration system and to find a long-term solution to fund operations at the popular site. The pool is managed by an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the town of Patagonia, the Patagonia Union High School District (PUHSD) and the Patagonia Elementary School District (PESD). Most of the financial burden for maintaining and operating the pool, however, has fallen to the school district.

The filtration system for the pool, located on the grounds of the Patagonia High School, failed last September, leaving the water of the pool a murky green color and unfit for swimming. The school has sought three bids to repair the system. To date, only one bid of $50,000 has been received.

According to Patagonia School Superintendent Rachell Hochheim, the pool also needs to be drained, lights replaced, cracks on the deck fixed and new fencing and gates should be installed. The pool may need resurfacing. Hochheim would like to see a heater installed, as well, so that the pool could be used year-round. She would like to see a swim team re-established at the school and to be able to offer swimming as an elective. It would also enable community lap swimming, water aerobics, and swim lessons, which have been only available during the summer months, to continue all year. “We’ve got to take care of this no later than April,” Angelica Lucero, director of maintenance at the school and swimming pool supervisor, said, for the pool to be able to reopen this coming summer.

The other, perhaps larger challenge facing continued operation of the pool is rising maintenance and operations costs. According to school business manager Tonya Hubbell, the pool expenses for the last fiscal year were $49,135. The town contributed $10,000 and the two school districts each contributed $10,000. The only other funding for the pool comes from usage fees and tax credit donations. The balance was made up by the schools. “I can’t justify spending the money to fix the pool when we need it for student education,” Hubbell said.

In an IGA between the town of Patagonia dated May 1988, the two districts and the town agreed to contribute “not less than annually” into an operating and maintenance fund. Each of the three parties to the agreement were to contribute 33.3% of the projected maintenance expenses. The agreement states that “In the event that the funds… are insufficient to meet the maintenance expenses of the swimming pool, then each party agrees to contribute its proportionate share… to pay the operating and maintenance expenses of the swimming pool.”

In this original agreement, the town would “provide all maintenance and service” on the pool. It also stipulated that the swimming pool supervisor would be a town employee and that a three-member advisory board would be established, with one member from the high school district, one from the elementary district and one member to represent the town.

In a subsequent IGA, dated June 2004, the responsibility for hiring a swimming pool manager and providing maintenance and service for the pool was transferred to PUHSD, and each party was required to contribute $10,000 annually into the swimming pool fund. There is no mention in the revised agreement about each party contributing its proportionate share should expenses exceed the amount held in the swimming pool fund.

Hochheim estimates that 35 to 40 people a day use the pool through the summer during lap swimming, water aerobics, swim lessons and open swimming times. Summer school students and veterans and their families visiting Boulder Crest Retreat use the pool, as well.

“We need to revisit the agreement with the town and look for funding,” she said. She is working on a block grant and is interested in seeking private funding to try to keep the pool open. She would like to see a committee formed to help with planning and fundraising. “It’s important that we represent all stakeholders,’ she said. “I need to hear from whoever has a vested interest in the pool,” she said.

“I would hope that it gets fixed up and continues,” said former Mayor Ike Isakson “It’s a pretty important facility for town residents.” He felt that the county ought to help fund the pool. “They put money into the library. They might put some money into the pool,” he said.

“The pool is a tremendous benefit to both Patagonia and Sonoita, with some people coming from as far as Rain Valley,” said Clare Bonelli, of Sonoita, who participates in water aerobics at the pool. “Many days there are 50 or more adults using the pool between lap swims and water aerobics. The water activities keep us old folks strong and flexible and help us recover quickly from surgeries and accidents. While it is a terrific service to the community, I know it’s costly and not the best use of school funds. I would like to see some type of a foundation, or maybe the senior center, take over responsibility for running and maintaining the pool.”

“We’ll do everything we can to see that it is open this year,” town manager David Teel said. Although the pool is not on the current town council agenda, he felt that “It probably will get there someday soon.”