Soil, budget undercut BHS pool project

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Unstable soil at Belen High School and limited funds have pushed school officials to decrease the size of the building for the proposed indoor community swimming pool.

Belen Consolidated School officials changed the size of the building to avoid increasing the pool's original $8.85 million price tag by almost $2 million.

"The soils need to be stabilized before we can put a pool in there," said Board of Education President Sam Chavez. "This is creating additional costs for us — costs that we cannot bear.

"There's no money in the budget. There's no money in the bonds," Chavez said. "We cannot absorb the additional costs that our architects have been telling us it's going to cost us to stabilize that pool."

Instead of having the state-of-the-art pool inside a two-story building, the pool's shell will be about 20-feet high, or one-story. The reduction in the building's size will alleviate the stabilizing issues, said Superintendent Ron Marquez.

A lower building's walls will stabilize the ground underneath it instead of weighing the building down like a taller structure would, he said.

Although the size of the building will be smaller, the size and the number of the pools inside will remain the same.

"(The architects) can bring us the same size swimming pools and bring it in at budget," Chavez said.

Preliminary design plans, created by project architect Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, show the 24,000-square-foot natatorium will consist of two pools, a 10-lane competition pool going in two directions and a recreation/diving pool, two seating areas with a combined capacity of 375, restrooms, showers and two one-meter diving boards.

The diving pool will contain warm water, and the seven-foot competition pool will have cool water. The cooler water allows for faster swimming speeds during competitions.

The community pool will be between the high school's football stadium and current swimming pool, where the old tennis courts were located.

The high school's unstable soils have caused problems in the past with other buildings. The school's first gymnasium lasted 10 years, less than its expected lifespan. The former agricultural building and shops were reinforced with large metal girders to prevent the building from collapsing.

Having a shorter building also will save the district money in the long run with heating and air conditioning costs when the facility is up and running.

School administrators are scheduled to sell $13.25 million worth of general obligation bonds, which include the pool's funding. The sale of bonds was delayed in an effort to improve the district's credit rating and receive the best interest rate.

Until the bonds are sold, the district has used Senate Bill 9 funds from the Public School Capital Improvements Act to continue moving forward with bond projects, such as the pool.

These funds can be used as supplementary school funding for capital improvement needs.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.