Swim coach Angie Brennan speaks in support of lower user fees for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District pools during a Board of Education meeting on Monday, March 14, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

Swim coach Angie Brennan speaks in support of lower user fees for Kenai Peninsula Borough School District pools during a Board of Education meeting on Monday, March 14, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)

School board mulls school pool user fees

Noncommercial user groups say they’re being charged too much

How much should the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District charge different groups to use school pools? That question remains unanswered after debate at Monday’s Board of Education meeting sent board members back to the drawing board.

KPBSD board voted Monday to send Administrative Regulation 1330, which describes the use of school facilities and properties, back to the board’s policy committee for additional work. Among other things, the policy describes room fees, pool admission and rental fees and auditorium fees.

Noncommercial pool users advocated Monday for the creation of an additional category of users to be added to the district’s fee schedule and said a price hike implemented years ago has made running some programs impossible. The board held extensive work sessions in 2019 to address the issue before approving changes, which include a bump in the hourly rate for a catch-all group of users from $35 to $150.

Currently, the district recognizes five distinct user categories when it comes to school pools, which are given different priority. Category A, given highest priority, is used for school and school-related activities. Other categories include individual birthday parties, individual lane rentals and groups that provide activities for youth. Category C includes any other groups that do not meet criteria for the aforementioned categories.

Youth activities groups are charged $35 per hour, which includes one life guard, and $70 for two hours, which include two lifeguards. Individual birthday parties are charged $90 per hour for up to 49 people, which includes two lifeguards. Category C groups pay $150 per hour with one lifeguard and $185 per hour with two lifeguards.

Up for consideration by the board Monday were changes to the fee schedule that were brought forward at the request of the public in December 2021. The changes would have, among other things, reduced the number of user categories and clarified that rates apply during normal pool operations.

Alaska SeaLife Center President and CEO Dr. Tara Riemer told board members Monday that she’s been fighting the price hike since the changes were implemented. The SeaLife Center’s divers train at the Seward High School pool and called the $150 per hour rate “a little crazy.” The SeaLife Center’s diving team is responsible for cleaning the facility’s tanks and research work.

Riemer called for “middle ground” and pointed out that the center’s divers are professional swimmers, who are being trained as part of their job and don’t necessarily need two lifeguards on duty.

“We’ve actually wondered if we should start scheduling birthday parties and renting the pool for a birthday party in order for us to do our dive training, because quite frankly, that would be a much more cost-effective manner,” Riemer said.

She proposed an additional category for noncommercial pool use that would allow groups like hers to continue using the pool, including for children’s programming that the SeaLife center also offers.

Angie Brennan, of Soldotna, said she’s coached competitive swimming at the high school and adult levels and has been an instructor in an adult learn-to-swim program. She said she hears regularly from people who want to participate locally in U.S. Masters Swimming that she’s had to turn away because the program became too expensive to run.

“I get probably five people a week asking can we swim masters and we couldn’t afford to keep going this time,” Brennan said Monday.

A trickle-down effect of being able to offer adult swimming classes, Brennan said, is that those adults can then teach their kids to swim. The more people that know how to swim, she said, the more drowning fatalities can be reduced on the peninsula.

Johna Beech, of Kenai, is a longtime masters swimmer and voiced her frustration that there didn’t appear to be a place for adult swim groups in the school district’s fee schedule. Beech said she’d like to see more lap swim times offered as well. Beech said swim practice Monday was canceled because there wasn’t a lifeguard there to supervise.

“It’s a little bit frustrating,” Beech told board members. “We have three incredible pools within a 10-mile radius and we can’t use them.”

The changes up for consideration Monday will now move back into committee for further work by board members.

Monday’s full board of education meeting can be streamed on the district’s media page at media.kpbsd.k12.ak.us.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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