Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 11, 2013

Betty Wright Aquatic Center pool shuts down

Aging Palo Alto facility's pool can't be repaired, nonprofit states; other venues sought for services

by Jocelyn Dong

The Betty Wright Aquatic Center pool in south Palo Alto has closed due to irreparable problems with the facility, Abilities United, the nonprofit that runs the center, has announced.

A fixture in the community for 45 years, the indoor pool on Middlefield Road featured 93-degree water and wheelchair access. People with disabilities received therapy there, and members of the general public, from toddlers to seniors, took swim lessons and exercise classes at the center.

It was even credited by some with helping people with disabilities to learn to walk again.

"Due to age-related structural and engineering issues that can no longer be repaired, and after exploring all possible options to keep the pool open, we regret to announce that the pool must be permanently closed effective Oct. 4, 2013," the nonprofit announced in a press release.

As recently as 2010, supporters of the center had launched a major fundraising campaign, "Project WaterWell," which had aimed to raise $425,000 to fix the facility. At the time, staff told the Weekly that a boiler that heated the pool was near to failing, the building's ventilation system had to be revamped and new sliding glass doors were needed.

The campaign did raise about $500,000, according to Wendy Kuehnl, Abilities United's director of marketing. All of the Project WaterWell projects — solar panels, boilers, ventilation system and windows to replace sliding glass doors — were completed and installed.

"Even with these repairs we could not have foreseen the irreparable fracture and the plumbing leaks that resulted in health and safety concerns and the closure," Kuehnl wrote in an email. Leaking underground pipes were discovered and repairs attempted. After the entire pool cracked in the middle, was repaired and cracked again, the staff called in soil, structural and pool engineers, Kuehnl confirmed. Their unanimous conclusion was that repair was no longer possible.

The new solar panels, boilers and windows will be saved for possible use in any new facility that might be built, Kuehnl added.

The center dates to the 1960s, when Betty Wright, for whom the pool facility is named, and community members worked to build the only indoor, warm-water pool in the area. Throughout its history, the center has provided warm-water rehabilitation, fitness and recreation to tens of thousands of people in the Bay Area, according to Abilities United.

Although the center's pool is closing, Abilities United is launching a planning process to "find a permanent solution to meet the aquatic needs of the community." The nonprofit will host a meeting Oct. 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. to address concerns, answer questions, offer options and hear thoughts on how it can plan for the future. The meeting will take place at the Betty Wright Aquatic Center, 3864 Middlefield Road.

In addition, the staff of the center will continue to offer aquatic rehabilitation services at alternate locations — the Palo Alto Family YMCA and the San Jose State University Timpany Center — to those who use the pool to manage chronic pain.

Staff are also actively seeking other pools where the staff can offer swim and fitness classes, the press release stated.

Over the years, pool patrons have extolled the benefits of the aquatic center.

"The water allows me to unfold and get my body completely open," Molly Hale, who suffered a broken neck in a car accident in 1995, told the Weekly in 2010.

"There is a strong sense of welcome. The water says, 'Ah — you're home.' That's what it feels like to me. I'm totally free," she said.

Hale, whose doctors feared she would be permanently paralyzed from the shoulders down, eventually learned to walk and swim again.

Abilities United (formerly known as C.A.R, Community Association for Rehabilitation) serves children and adults with developmental disabilities and physical disabilities through early intervention services, a therapy clinic, Milestones inclusive preschool, computer education, respite, employment services, independent living skills, after school program, adult day program, and aquatic service for people with and without disabilities.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann contributed to this report. Editor Jocelyn Dong can be emailed at jdong@paweekly.com.

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