Swimmers at Morro Bay High School have been treading water for years.
Without the benefit of a pool on campus, or in the city, since the late 1990s, aquatics athletes at the school have waited their turn to use whatever pool was available. That meant moving around from Cambria to Cayucos to Cuesta to find practice time. For the nearly 100 students in the program this year, it has been a challenge. On some days when practice is held at Cuesta College, students don’t make it home until 9 p.m.
“Imagine a basketball team that doesn’t have access to a basketball court on a regular basis or a football team that doesn’t have access to a grass field at set times on a regular schedule,” Morro Bay aquatics director Andrew Silva said.
But after more than 15 years without a place to swim, the wait is nearly over.
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The San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) will begin construction in June on an estimated $6 million pool at Morro Bay High School, the jumping off point for $177 million in proposed repairs and upgrades for schools in the district, with the bulk of the money going to upgrades to athletic facilities and classrooms at Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo high schools.
Small signs that read “Measure D” sit in front of each of the schools, signaling that something big is coming. In fact, the Measure D project will be the largest renovation at either school in 50 years.
The comprehensive construction project is a result of a bond proposal that passed with 72-percent approval in November 2014. Out of the $177 million bond, $120 million is slated to make improvements at Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo. An additional $57 million will be split between the other 15 schools in the district.
SLCUSD Director of Facilities Anthony Pallazo and his team are overseeing the project that is expected to take four to six years to complete. Since the bond passed, the team has been going through the tedious process of planning the step-by-step overhaul of buildings on the campuses, many of which haven’t seen any upgrades in 35 years.
Now the schools will get the works.
Planned for the high schools are campus-wide classroom, cafeteria and library renovations, a new pool for each campus and new tracks and student centers, just to name a few things.
“From a physical standpoint, 50 years without significant investment in our facilities has burdened our operational budget with excessive maintenance cost for leaky roofs, aging bathroom plumbing and out of date lighting systems,” the district posted on its Measure D website. “Updating our buildings to today’s energy and building codes will provide substantial annual savings in taxpayer money.”
The bond money will be collected through property tax assessments of a maximum of $49 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to the district. The district estimates that it will cost an average home owner about $300 per year.
“The public showed such great support for both school districts by passing the bond,” Silva said. “Everybody is patiently waiting to see how it turns out.”
Morro Bay Changes
No one is more excited about the empty lot in front of Morro Bay High School than Silva.
He and Morro Bay athletic director John Andree are convinced that when the sand and dead grass are replaced by a top-of-the-line aquatics center, it will invigorate the already popular swim program.
For evidence, they need only to look at what happened a few miles to the south.
Arroyo Grande built a pool on campus in 2007, and water polo coach Steven Allen said recently that it changed everything. Allen considers the on-campus pool a big reason why Arroyo Grande now has one of the top girls water polo programs in the state. Andree and Silva hope the same will happen at Morro Bay when the pool is completed. The plan is to begin construction in June and finish the pool in time for the start of the 2017-18 school year.
“We think we are going to see a huge influx of students,” Andree said. “We are a beach community, so our kids grow up around water, so its just logical.”
Plans for the $6 million complex include a 25-yard by 35-meter pool that can support 16 swimming lanes, covered bleachers, an LED scoreboard, locker rooms and a concession kiosk. The much smaller original pool on campus, built in the ’60s, was shut down when it became too costly and began to leak.
Pallazo said there are a few reasons why district decided to make the Morro Bay pool the first big undertaking of Measure D. One was that Cuesta was planning to shut down its pool for major renovations this summer.
“So that triggered us like, ‘Oh crud, we are going to be without any pool,’” Pallazo said.
But Cuesta agreed to work with SLCUSD, opting instead to make small repairs on the pool and postpone the major renovations until Morro Bay’s pool is completed. Cuesta’s swim teams will then use the Morro Bay’s pool while its repairs are made.
Another reason was the ease of planning.
“When you are talking about designing the front administration building or getting into these classroom wings, the labs, there are a lot of decisions to be made. You want to get a lot more input on that,” Pallazo said. “With the pool, it’s a small group of people, and we know we need a hole in the ground.”
Pallazo also said while getting state approval on plans for classrooms and administration buildings can take more than a year, getting approval for a pool is relatively quick. Plus, the community will benefit from its use sooner — an added bonus.
Pallazo said the district is in talks with Morro Bay to figure out the what kind of programs the city wants to offer.
“(The city) can rent it from us for a flat rate, whatever that would be, and then they can operate their programs,” Pallazo said, adding the location of the pool will allow for easy community access. “(Morro Bay) is still evaluating what is going to work for them and can they get enough people to use it.”
SLO High Changes
SLO High will have to wait on its biggest projects.
Athletic director Jeff Brandow said the biggest impact will come when the dirt track is converted to a nine-lane all-weather track, the same track being installed at Morro Bay High in the next few years.
“If you come out here on any night that we don’t have a home football or home soccer game there are 30-100 people five nights a week running out on our track,” Brandow said, adding that more than 10 percent of the student population participates in track and field. “Every year since I have been here, our track and field coaches and cross country coaches have gone to train at Cuesta, Cal Poly and other places so they could train on the actual surface they are going to run on.”
While the track is a ways off, the district will start rebuilding the tennis courts this summer and hopes to complete the project in time in 2017. The courts will be torn down and rebuilt from the ground up to make sure they meet CIF size regulations. The court currently is too small. Morro Bay’s tennis court, which is expected to be done this summer, needs a simple repaving and a coat of paint.
The combined cost to renovation both tennis courts at Morro Bay and SLO High will be $1.3 million, Pallazo said.
While the pool at Morro Bay was a quick decision, the SLO High pool, which will cost an estimated $7.2 million, took more planning with a city-owned sewer pipe running through the heart of campus complicating things. As a result, the timeline for the pool’s construction is unknown. Other than the pool, which will not be open to the public, the timing for the track rennovation is still being determined, but what is known is that eventually the stadium will need to be shut down for a year, displacing any teams that play there.
Brandow said he is confident the short-term challenges will pay off in the end.
“I think the biggest thing is pride,” Brandow said. “You have a school that seven years from now has $60 million of life there is going to be a different feel on campus than there is right now. I think it will spill over into academics and athletics and the community.”
“While it sounds like we are just doing an athletics projects, no it does help the education side,” Pallazo said. “It is keeping the kids on campus and giving them the resources they need.”
The projects set to begin this summer will set the table for the next phases, which are going through the final design phases. Outside of construction on the tennis courts, the district will bring in temporary classrooms at SLO High this summer on the football practice field to house students while the annex is torn down in anticipation of starting construction on a 12-classroom building next summer. Also, Pallazo said, crews will start on a new classroom wing, renovate the music building and start on a new student services building that will serve as the new gateway to the campus at SLO High next summer. The Morro Bay student services building and the renovation of auto shop and a new science building will begin next summer.
“The idea was while these athletic things are not as high of a priority from an educational standpoint, they are easy to get through the process — we will get them approved and get them going, but we have classrooms right behind them,” Palazzo said. “I come from the private sector. I put my foot on the gas and we stop when we are done.”
The Measure D website has the overall cost estimates of each project, but the costs and time lines are not set in stone. Pallazo said the website will be updated as plans and cost estimates roll in.
“As we get closer, which is what we are starting to do now, we are getting cost estimates on all the preliminary stuff,” Pallazo said in his office on Wednesday, adding much of that change will mirror the economy. “We are hoping by the end of summer we will have a much better view of more detailed numbers,”
The swim lanes at Morro Bay’s practice at Cuesta on Thursday night were crowded. Silva takes solace in the fact that it won’t be that way for long.
“The moment we see equipment on the campus that will be a big milestone,” Silva said. “That will be the ‘ah-ha’ moment. It will be emotional.”
Pallazo, a long-time local architect who has helped build schools up and down the state, said he loves being able to bring something to the city where he lives. His expects his first son, who he anticipates will be born on Monday, to walk the halls of the new San Luis Obispo campus.
“The people who voted against it, I understand that, and I expect that, but we are blessed to live in a community were 70 percent of the people see the value in investing in our youth,” Brandow said. “I own a house here. I am paying those property taxes. I saw my bill go up. It is absolutely worth every dollar.”
Cost estimates for projects to begin this summer
- Tennis courts: $1.3 million
- SLO High annex demolition: $250,000
- C.L. Smith Elementary Kindergarten Classroom and Temp Housing at SLOHS: $925,000
- Morro Bay Pool: $6 million
- For more information, visit sanluiscoastalmeasureD.org