New Berlin -- Russ Bellford is so happy he could walk on water.
The reason is that the new Eisenhower Middle/High School swimming pool will open on Monday, Aug. 8, the climax of a nine-year effort Bellford led. That effort included petitions to fix or replace the ailing Eisenhower pool and even a discrimination complaint. There were real fears that if the pool had an expensive mechanical failure, it would be closed for good.
But the stars lined up, and the district came into extra money from the sale of surplus properties, including the former Glen Park Elementary School. Sale proceeds took care of the $2.1 million pool replacement. Upgrades to the HVAC system came in at $1.2 million and were paid for with reserve funds and borrowing.
Now school officials are excited to showcase the new pool with an open house and grand opening ceremony from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 8, at Eisenhower, 4333 S. Sunnyslope Road.
"They did a heck of a job," Bellford said."I'm very happy and very satisfied that we've secured an aquatic program in this community for the next 40 or 50 years."
The pool is used for swim lessons even for tiny children, for physical education classes, for competitive swimming, by swim clubs, dive club, synchronized swim and Special Olympics, he said.
"They are all wonderful programs, and there is not enough capacity at New Berlin West," the other New Berlin middle/high school with a swimming pool, Bellford said.
Susan Meister, former officer with the New Berlin Swim Club and a swim parent with the Southwest Aquatic Team, rents Eisenhower pool space. She said her daughter, Mia, will start swim practice the day after the grand opening.
"She's really excited. It's a dream come true," Meister said.
"I'm so, so grateful to the school board and to the district for making this happen," she said. "I'm beyond ecstatic, this is such a blessing."
Being able to engage in competitive swimming not only gives New Berlin youth a lifetime sport to enjoy and to help them stay fit, but gives life lessons, she said.
The mother of two competitive swimmers said that her children have learned to be organized and to set priorities.
"When you are in the water for three hours after school, you know you must be productive at school," she said.
Concern over the Eisenhower pool started in 2007, when after 45 years the school's original swimming pool was ailing. It also was too shallow and too small by today's standards. Eventually, diving from the diving board was not allowed, competitive swimmers where not allowed to dive off starting blocks and meets could no longer be held there.
The preliminary price tag of $1.6 million for dealing with the pool was like a spalsh of cold water for the school board.
The drive to preserve a swimming pool at Eisenhower involved numerous efforts spearheaded by parents of competitive swimmers. Those efforts included petitions, speaking at school board meetings and even filing a Title IX discrimination complaint. Bellford filed the Title IX complaint alleging that the district doesn't give girls who make up most of the swimming program as much support as it gives to boys sports. The complaint didn't result in a new swimming pool, but it did result in the school board agreeing to upgrade a baseball field.
In Bellford's view, two key factors turned the situation around.
One was a community-wide survey that showed strong support for the Eisenhower pool. It didn't, however, show support for raising property taxes.
The other key factor was the election of Amy Crosby to the school board, Bellford said. Crosby, a swim parent, was able to communicate with board members and school administration, he said.
"They seemed to listen a little more," after Crosby was elected, he said.
Worries along the way
Bellford acknowledged that he worried that the ailing swimming pool would eventually close.
"I always felt the community wanted it. If we could get enough community members to make their wishes known, we would prevail," Bellford said. He said he felt the pool proponents were right in terms of fairness between boys and girls sports, from a community enhancement standpoint and from a financial standpoint, too, with operating costs being far less with a new pool.
Meister said she never had any doubts.
"I had faith in Mr. Garza and his team," she said, referring to Superintendent Joe Garza.
The district went "above and beyond" o make the project outstanding, Bellford said. An ultraviolet system was installed to reduce chlorine use i half, he said. That is a boon to health and safety and to fiances, he said.
“We hope many residents come out to see this beautiful new pool,” Superintendent Garza said in a news release. “We listened to our community – we upgraded a facility in dire need of improvements and did so in a fiscally responsible way,"
"What’s more, we are excited that Eisenhower’s girls swim team and our co-op boys team will be able to once again host competitive meets at Eisenhower, and that all of our students will be able to enjoy our pool,” Garza said.
School officials will address the audience at 6 p.m. during a short ribbon-cutting ceremony, to be followed by an “inaugural splash.”