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Betty Wright Aquatic Center pool shuts down

Original post made on Oct 6, 2013

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.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, October 6, 2013, 1:49 PM

Comments (31)

Posted by very sad, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 6, 2013 at 2:25 pm

This is a travesty. Especially because that monstrosity of a library next to it (the new Mitchell Pk library) that is a year behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget, continues to drag on, when the Aquatic Center is truly needed. Priorities are really screwed up here.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2013 at 2:49 pm

It is a shame that they have not called on the community for help before announcing this. I feel that there may have been many individuals who could have helped in some way.

It is also a shame that the City can give $1m+ to Childrens Theater which offers programs free to children who could easily pay and not give something to this non-profit which helps people who deserve the help they desperately need.


Posted by Saddened, a resident of Community Center
on Oct 6, 2013 at 3:14 pm

This pool was such an amazing resource to so many. I'm with Resident, I'm sorry they did not try to keep it open.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 6, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Perhaps the people interested in developing a recreational swimming program in Palo Alto could help with the repairs and figure out a way to use the pool too.


Posted by Shocked, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 6, 2013 at 4:51 pm

As someone with no room for a pool of my own, I have depended on the warm water pool for exercising without exacerbating my severe rheumatoid arthritis.

Due to a Demyelinating neurological disease I developed last year, I can no longer take the usual treatment drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, since they actually may have caused the neurological disease I now have.

That pool gave me the only relief I could get from the joint and spine pain, Arctics are addictive and soporific.

I would have gladly contributed to the pool repair or replacement, had I only been asked!


Posted by Apples and Oranges, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 6, 2013 at 4:59 pm

@ Very Sad
I share your sadness, but it is important to focus on how to address this need and not use it to vent on our various complaints and perceptions about other issues. The Mitchell Library and Community Center is being funded by a separate bond measure that was approved over 2/3 of the voters and the design was provided to the electorate in advance. You can disagree with your neighbors who supported it if you want to beat a dead horse.


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 6, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Please, let's keep the decades old Children's Theater out of this!! Let's concentrate on the pool!! How did this wonderful site get into such trouble with no one really knowing about it?


Posted by Shraon, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Wow! How did something like this slip through the cracks!

Any ideas of how to help would be greatly appreciated.


Posted by Retired Staffer, a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2013 at 9:57 pm

I'm a patient at the Timpany Center next to Valley Medical Center. Timpany is administered by the Department of Kenesiology at San Jose State. Perhaps a similar arraingement could be made with Stanford since this type of therapy has been so helpful to me and so many others. This is medical stuff, not recreation. I'm sure that Avenidas could assist, since this facility is so important to older persons.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm

To comment about rec league partnership. 90+ degree pools are great for rehab, not so much for swim teams. Competition pools must be set between 78-82 degrees.


Posted by Sue, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 7, 2013 at 8:28 am

I volunteered at the pool one summer while home from college. It was life changing for me and I went on to become a Special Education teacher for the Orthopedically Handicapped after doing an internship in the infant program. I also worked for the Home Companion program and at the Group Home. I have donated to Abilities United over the years. They send me mailings about the Authors Luncheon, so I know they have my address. Not once was I contacted about fundraising to fix the pool. I would have donated immediately.

Abilities United, please reach out to the community and ask. We will support you!


Posted by So Sad, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2013 at 10:05 am

This is such devastating news!

Our kids grew up taking swim lessons at Betty Wright Aquatic Center.

BWAC is holding a town hall meeting in a few weeks... here are the details taken from the e-letter that I received from BWAC:

"Town Hall Meeting October 23 where we will address your concerns, answer your questions, offer some options, and hear your thoughts on ways for us to move forward as we plan for the future. So please join us:

Date: Wednesday, October 23
Time: 6:00-8:00pm
Location: Betty Wright Aquatic Center 3864 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto 94306"

We plan to attend to see how we can help.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2013 at 10:23 am

A few posters seem to be reacting as if this center is part of a government agency. It is a private nonprofit. It is highly likely that some government funds flow to it because of the rehab services for eligible individuals, but, the facility and organization are charities. It would be wonderful if private donors could step forward and help keep the facility open. I have been a (very modest) private donor to C.A.R. and Abilities United for years and was very surprised by this announcement.


Posted by Carol Gilbert, a resident of University South
on Oct 7, 2013 at 11:04 am

I live at The Hamilton where we have a rather warm pool with wheel chair access. Although we cannot open it to the public, there might be people here who would like a class given here or private workouts. Contact David Andrysiak if you are interested in offering something.

Also, the Moldow center has an indoor pool I think.


Posted by Long Time Palo Alto Resident, a resident of University South
on Oct 7, 2013 at 11:30 am

Has anyone asked John Arriaga if he would be willing to pitch in? Or, maybe the Peery Family? They seem to be willing to help financially for these kinds of things.... Peery maybe more than Arriaga, since it isn't related to Stanford....


Posted by Nancy, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2013 at 11:38 am

My husband had a spinal cord injury and is one of the people who is now able to walk due in large part to the Betty Wright pool. It's an invaluable resource, and there's nothing like it anywhere nearby. I wish everyone could have seen what' I've seen there: the blissful look on the face of a person with quadriplegia who is suddenly free--out of his physical prison--or the joy of a disabled child who's able to move through the water.
Clearly, they need help, not only with fund-raising, but also with publicizing what they do so that the community understands.
As my husband says, they need all of us and they need a financial angel.


Posted by Richard Placone, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

I agree this is a regretful circumstance. I was a volunteer in the Betty Wright program for years, eventually serving on the (then) C.A.R. board when the pool was built and many years after. Lynda Steele, Abilities United Executive Director, called me just before the closing was announced and gave me the following details about this problem.

The article announcing the closure of the pool center is not as clear as it could be re efforts to keep the pool open. As the article states $500K was spent replacing various mechanical parts in 2010. The pool then operated after these maintenance repairs for a year or more. Then sometime recently leaking underground pipes were discovered and repairs attempted. But the underlying clay soil evidently expanded and caused the entire pool to crack in the middle. The crack and the pipes were then repaired. Various soil, structural and pool engineers were consulted during this process. They expressed doubts about the longevity of these repairs. Then as the pool was refilled with water, the weight evidently caused another more severe break. Again the consultants were brought in and their unanimous conclusion was that repair was no longer possible. Hence the organization has no choice but to close the pool center. It was not for lack of attention or effort that the pool has been closed, as some posters here seem to suggest. Abilities United is planning to replace the pool and if necessary the building it houses. Certainly community contributions will be needed and hopefully forthcoming. I read somewhere that Palo Alto is home to 15 billionaires, so maybe they will help. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. In memory of the indomitable Betty Wright, lets all look forward to a successful rebuilding.


Posted by love to swim, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 7, 2013 at 12:15 pm

Given the number of adults and children that swim in Palo Alto and neighboring communities, and given the supposed wealth of this city, it's a pity we don't have a better aquatics facility. There is space at Rinconada Park to have a 50m competition pool, which could include a separate warm tank like at the Betty Wright center, as well as a shallow pool for kids. Having it all in one place would result in economies of scale. But probably this is just fantasy.


Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 7, 2013 at 1:04 pm

All of us must be alert to solicitations to repair/replace the facility. Be prepared to give! Don't just suggest what other people (the city, Arriaga, etc) should do.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 7, 2013 at 1:18 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

Let's see:

The REACH program left PA

Now our therapy pool gets closed.

The VTA transportation is spotty at best ( many of our REACH program were often late or missing from our therapy " classes ".

Here in the Denver Metro Area, ( I live alone in my original residence thanks to the REACH therapy in the barely functional Cubberley wing with a host other problems we had to deal with )
I have LIMO service if I need it for PAID visits to a local pool. The same for medical visits.
My local friends and family can take me to a NATURALLY FED SPA with temps up to the 104F limit for a hot tub. Indoor, too

Maybe Palo Alto needs to look at the big picture when ( NOT ) dealing with the disabled and elderly issues.

I'll be honest: The SFBA is not a place were the elderly and disabled are welcome. Unless you have the MONEY to afford keeping your house and hiring servants and caregivers to do the jobs that the Palo Alto ( and other SFBA ) communities won't do.

That is the brutal truth about being elderly or disabled in the SFBA.

Want to live in a people warehouse? That may be in your future...


Posted by Solon, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I have a client who may donate to rebuild pool.

PLEASE PUBLISH HERE NOW technical reasons for failure, cost estimates repairs, pool requirements per existing and new building code and pragmatic requirements.

I will pay a civil engineer, a designer and a contractor to propose alternatives to keep pool open.

Very happy and joyful to hear so many good stories of help and healing here.

I will do my best to arrange adequate anonymous donation to fund repair or replacement.

Have one proposal,already, but need technical data reading exact nature of problem and limitations.

Thank you.


Posted by Garrett, a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2013 at 2:07 pm

I would rather live in a apartment (warehouse) then have to live miles from this pool. I don't use the pool but been there a few times when I was a child, remember going and seeing the joy. Even if you can prolong the life of the old 45 year old pool but remember a new replacement will be needed.

We can passionate about a run down shopping center which why not have the developer donate the fine to BWAC. This is a outstanding public benefit.


Posted by SW, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Hearing this news really upset me and my three kids. They all learned to swim at BWSC. We have taken many, many swim lessons there over the past 12 years, including the parent tot classes when I had babies in tow. We really enjoyed the warm water, small classes and caring instructors.

We were not currently enrolled because the classes my sons needed were filled before I could sign up. What a heartbreak to read we can't return now.

I donated to the Project Waterwell a few years ago and would certainly donate to the center again. Hopefully, with a lot of community support, they will be able to rebuild as stated in an earlier comment.


Posted by Lynda Steele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 7, 2013 at 3:05 pm

As the Executive Director of Abilities United, I want to thank you Solon and all of you who have shared your stories and expressed such support for the highly valued community service provided by the Betty Wright Aquatic Center. For more detailed information about the estimated cost of the pool replacement and the nature of the problems please email me lynda@AbilitiesUnited.org. I am available to speak with you about the current condition and the future of the Betty Wright Aquatic Center.


Posted by jardins, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 7, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Does Abilities United intend to set up a website with more info about the problems--and the replacement costs?

Very nice of Lynda Steele to respond to individuals who ask for more such info, but wouldn't it be better for fundraising if we could all access this info on a website--and also donate through that?


Posted by Midtown pool user, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 8, 2013 at 7:57 am

The pool is a real jewel offering many an experience of freedom and movement that they never have in any other way and to see it is one of the most heartwarming sights you can see.
It is true that the staff was not up to caring for the physical building properly. It is also true that the pool is old and could only be kept going for so long.
The question now is, what is the process going forward? In order to replace the pool, wherever it is, there needs to be a collaborative, competent, positive process, with transparency. If prudent steps are taken and communicated clearly, I believe that many people would support the rebuild enthusiastically with time and money. It may sound unrealistic, but it is possible and it would allow people to heal both physically and psychically, as it seems many folks are upset about the pool and how the work was managed and communicated.
Just a note about comments coming from staff. If a new (over 20 million dollar) facility needs to be built, it is comforting to announce that the boiler, windows, etc. will be reused, but that may not be the best approach, so don't promise it and let a $20,000 boiler or 50,000 worth of windows drive architectural decision making. The new facility should be designed optimally and if those items fit in fine, if not - Craigslist.


Posted by Cancer survivor, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2013 at 7:30 am

I received very helpful therapy at the Betty Wright center and saw first hand the many disabled clients who come multiple times a week for therapy classes.

I am hopeful that our community will join together to repair this very essential asset.


Posted by Palo Alto Native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 9, 2013 at 10:20 am

Agree with "jardins". Lynda Steele should publicize this. There are plenty of Palo Altans who have excess money to donate. But not everyone has the time to pick up the phone and call her during business hours. Make it easier for people to donate. Paypal buttons are incredibly easy to place on a page.


Posted by Lynda Steele, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 9, 2013 at 8:51 pm

Thank you all for your comments and questions. You can make a donation on the Abilities United website donation page Web Link
You may designate your donation to the agency in general or specifically to aquatics or any other service.
Thank you for your generosity and support!


Posted by poolparent, a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 15, 2013 at 2:17 pm

My children have been attending swim lessons at Abilities United consistently since the first one was 4 months old (9 years ago). It has been a hard two months without this valuable resource. I don't live in a neighborhood with a pool club and the JCC is overwhelmingly expensive - especially if only used for the pool. The YMCA and outdoor pool water is cold enough that my thin kids can't stay in for long and don't want to go. They love their swim teachers and want them back! Betty Wright Swim Center, I miss you.


Posted by Shocked, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 15, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Checked into the JCC and it is way too costly, even for Palo Alto. The Y is too costly for what little you get there, though the pool is warm. Rinconada pool is just too cold, and often, too crowded. I just do not have a back hard large enough for a pool of my own.

I wish Abilities United would have let the public know of their kneed long before it came to this!


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