MODESTO — The Enochs High School cafeteria rang Wednesday night with cheers for a new pool. Girls water polo players wore their high-necked swimsuits (with shorts) and held up signs.
Parents spoke angrily about broken promises, urgently about water safety and imploringly about missed family dinners and bedtimes.
Modesto City Schools board members also heard from upset taxpayers, who said they've paid enough.
Board members asked for public input on plans to build a $3.5 million swimming pool at Enochs, and the call was answered. Roughly 350 people crowded in to say their piece. A straw poll called by one community member showed that the vast majority were there to support the pool.
Enochs' 50 water polo players rescheduled a game so they could attend the meeting. Several said it costs about $1,000 a year in gas money to travel 4.4 miles down the road to practice at the Johansen pool each day. They added that the travel time contributes to them having to sometimes stay up until midnight to finish homework.
Girls varsity water polo coach Mikayla Walker, speaking before the meeting, said all the Enochs teams practice at once. Her section of the pool will shrink when a community water polo team begins its practice at Johansen in a few weeks.
Boys varsity coach Jad Grigsby said he runs practice from 5 to 7 p.m. but knows it's cutting into the boys' study time. Plus, while most car-pool or drive themselves, he knows not every Enochs Eagle can make the trip.
Player Carter Reynolds said he lives by Davis High, but goes to Enochs for the forensic-biotechnology program. "It's already a long drive," he said. "I get home at 7:30 and just fall asleep."
Player Trent Williams, a junior, said he knew the pool wouldn't be built in time to help him, "but it's definitely worth it to at least get it started to help the next generation," he said.
At the meeting, Enochs Principal Deb Rowe waved her Village I tax bill in the air. Paying taxes is "nobody's favorite thing to do," she said, but the pool is needed and worth it to her.
Village I homeowner and firefighter Chuck Rivera said he is on the hook to pay hundreds of dollars annually over the next 13 years. Take it, he told board members, but make sure all the students know how to swim.
Downey High physical education teacher Frank Bispo said he supports the pool, but added that his school's pool sits empty nights, weekends and over the summer. He would like to see community use included in plans for the new facility.
Homeowner Marcie Walters said she came to the meeting in favor of the pool, but heard questions about the financing and changed her mind. Spending just because you want something sets a bad example for children, she said. Hers was one of very few minds changed at the meeting. Most who came were passionate in their support or opposition.
After an hour and a half of two-minute speeches, board members shared thoughts. No action on the matter ever was intended for Wednesday's meeting. President Rubén Villalobos, at most meetings the lone voice on the board questioning the pool project, said he no longer will press the issue. "The board has spoken," he said.
City Councilman Dave Cogdill Jr. and city staff said they hoped plans for an aquatic center at Mary Grogan Park could become a joint-use project with neighboring Enochs for a community pool, but there was little support voiced for the idea from school district staff. Cogdill said as the father of an Enochs water polo player and a taxpayer, he sees both sides. But, he said, the city wants a legal dispute over taxing authority to be resolved before the district commits to spending additional bond funds.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.
SCHOOLS WITH POOLS: Beyer, Davis, Downey, Johansen and Modesto high schools have competitive swimming pools that were built at the time of original construction. Gregori and Enochs highs and Elliott Alternative Education Center do not have pools.
THE STANDOUT: Johansen's 50-meter pool is the area's premier aquatic facility, able to hold two water polo games simultaneously during tournaments. It was built as a regional facility using community as well as district funds.
RECENT FIXES: The Modesto and Downey pools were renovated in the past five years or so during modernization projects.
GREGORI HIGH: Modesto's newest campus is getting a stadium this year, but not a pool for the foreseeable future. However, the school site master plan has a pool area set aside next to the gym, with some utilities stubbed to the area in case funding becomes available.
TEAMS IN PLAY: All the large schools, including Gregori and Enochs, have four (girls and boys JV and varsity) water polo teams in the fall and swim teams in the spring.