|Take the Plunge - With a Bulkhead?
December 12, 2009
I support the Plunge bulkhead, and I hope you do too. If you want to let City Council members know of your support, simply click “reply to all” and send a message.
There are so many layers to this story, I don’t know where to begin or end, but I feel compelled to share what I know.
As a tumultuous 2009 draws to a close with the City Council’s final meeting of the year only three days away, guess which highly controversial subject has seized the hearts and minds of Richmond, in the process setting The Richmond Swim Center against The Plunge, generation against generation, neighbor against neighbor and neighborhood against neighborhood? Oh my God, it’s the Plunge bulkhead!
Like the third episode of a bad soap opera that hopefully will not see a second season, the Plunge bulkhead is on the City Council agenda for the third straight meeting.
See City Council reconsiders pool divider, December 3, 2009 and Council approves $350,000 divider for The Plunge swimming pool, November 18, 2009.
For those of you who may not religiously follow City Council drama, a swimming pool bulkhead is a movable, floating, largely underwater partition, typically about 4 feet wide, within a pool that can divide it into areas that can be used for different aquatic programs or events. For example, lap swimming for adults might occur on one side while swimming lessons for children are on the other. At 60 feet (20 yards) by 160 feet (53.3 yards), the Plunge was built in 1926, long before competitive swimming was standardized into 25 yard or 25 meter lanes, but the Plunge is only 20 yards wide. One advantage of a bulkhead is that it can be parked 25 yards or 25 meters from one end and create a standard competition pool where swim teams could practice or compete.
Bulkheads are in swimming pools everywhere. Click here to see a list of just those recently installed by Stark Bulkheads, the prospective vendor of the Plunge bulkhead.
Below is a photo of a typical bulkhead in an indoor pool. Click here for other examples.
As the Plunge rehabilitation neared completion, most of 2009 has become a battle royal between a largely younger generation who advocated for the addition of a bulkhead and a largely older generation who fought against it. The younger generation wanted programming flexibility and the opportunity for competitive swimming while the nostalgic older generation wanted to preserve the warmer water and more unconstrained ambiance that they fondly remembered. As allies, the anti-bulkhead forces, largely led by the fund-raising Save the Plunge Trust leaders, enlisted the architect they had previously selected, Todd Jersey, the City of Richmond Aquatics staff and a coterie of activists from other neighborhoods who characterized the bulkhead as an expenditure that would replace some critical need in their own neighborhoods. The pro-bulkhead forces have been largely young families from all over Richmond as well as some competitive swimmers, including Ralph Kendrick, a former Richmond resident and son of the Plunge’s first lifeguard, now the Pool Manager for the Bear River Recreation and Parks District in Grass Valley, CA.
For months, anti-bulkhead forces, which included their architect, Todd Jersey, took a neutral stand in public (In the spring of 2009, Save the Plunge Trust actually voted to stay neutral) while throwing bombs at the idea behind the scenes. They said the State Office of Historic Preservation and the California Cultural and Historical Endowment (source of $2 million of funding) would not allow it, both of which were erroneous. They said the Contra Costa County Health Services Department would not approve it, but it did. They said it was unsafe and simply would not fit or function with the Plunge’s unique dimensions and type of construction. Both were proved wrong.
As the impediments were systematically eliminated and the advantages became increasingly clear, the city manager indicated an inclination to order and install the bulkhead. By that time, however, delay had driven up the cost, and the anti-bulkhead forces who had counted on killing the idea by throwing up obstacles behind the scenes went public and went political. The ultimate decision was punted to the City Council, which voted 5-1 on November 17 to go with the bulkhead.
A week later, the only dissenting voter, Nat Bates, agendized an item entitled, “Consider and commit to restoring the Richmond Plunge to its original usage upon opening. This commitment requires the city to continue the Therapeutic, Handicap, and Senior Citizen Programs at the Plunge .” Bates motivation never became clear, but it sparked yet another protracted bulkhead debate. In the end, the entire Council supported it because there was no inherent conflict between installation of a bulkhead and the activities listed.
The discussion did, however, give at least one Councilmember, jim Rogers, the prospect for buyer’s remorse about his previous support for the bulkhead. He subsequently placed on the December 15 agenda consideration of a reconsideration vote, which requires a 2/3 vote to suspend the rules related to reconsiderations.
As yet another vote looms on the bulkhead, I continue to support it.
A Little History
Anti-bulkhead leader and president of the Richmond Friends of Recreation as well as executive director of the Save the Plunge Trust Ellie Strauss (now a resident of Cloverdale) recently wrote:
“Where was this “younger “generation when we were overcoming all the hurdles presented by this massive project? When the City hired the Sports Management Team from Oakland to do a use assessment of the pool 3 public hearings were held in the Bermuda room and in all those discussions there was never the mention of a swim team as a potential program. It was always assumed the pool would be brought back to its historic state as a recreational pool.”
This nostalgic characterization, which continues as the mantra of the anti-bulkhead forces, is simply not accurate.
When rehabilitation of the Richmond Plunge first started to look politically feasible after it closed due to deterioration and seismic safety in 2001, the architecture firm, Siegel and Strain, was competitively selected by the City of Richmond to design the rehabilitation, and the Sports Management Group was hired to do the programming.
The Richmond Municipal Natatorium, Feasibility Study, Final Report, by the Sports Management Group in December 2002, stated, “The community has indicated that spaces included in the plunge should be flexible and provide multiple uses. The plunge should also meet the current need for recreation, aquatic and wellness activities while serving a wide range of ages, cultures, abilities and interests. The goal is to expand the user base through a broader range of aquatic ad recreational offerings…Lap and fitness swimming cannot sufficiently be programmed at the Richmond Swim Center.”
Below, The Richmond Municipal Natatorium, Feasibility Study, Final Report, by the Sports Management Group, December 2002,
The Building Assessment and Schematic Design options prepared by Siegel & Strain in 2002 referenced the above mentioned programming study by The Sports Management Group (TSMG) that included a random survey of 400 Richmond residents and “input from a task Force of City staff, City residents and consultants to the City.”
Two options were developed, a single tank pool and a double tank pool. “TSMG found that the program, and therefore the revenue, would be enhanced if the swimming pool were rebuilt as two pools: a lap pool and a warmer multi-use pool…the two pools would provide a wider range of programs opportunities than would one pool.”
In conclusion, Siegel & Strain recommended, “Provide the best possible enhancement of recreational programs. Option B [two pools] provides the most substantial improvements to functionality and is the only option that allows for substantially expanded program opportunities. If the City wishes to maximize such programs, it should pursue Option B and incorporate the two-pool scheme.”
What happened is that the 2004 City financial crises had gripped City Hall, and the City did not have sufficient construction funding to immediately proceed with the project, which Siegel & Strain had estimated at about $8 million for the less expensive scheme that used only the existing building. Todd Jersey got involved in about 2003, convincing the Save the Plunge Trust that he could design a project that would be far cheaper than that designed by Siegel & Strain.
On February 15, 2005, the city Council held a “shootout” between Todd Jersey and Siegel & Strain at a study session. Siegel & Strain presented and defended their $8 million design, after which, Todd Jersey stated: “At $291 per square foot and over 8 million dollars, the cost of most basic scheme from the June 2002 report is not affordable. This un-affordable cost has stalled the project.” Jersey went on to say: “…we have produced our own cost estimate and believe the project can be done for between 3-4 million dollars, virtually cutting the anticipated project in half.”
The cost of the Plunge rehabilitation designed by Todd Jersey is now over $8 million, exactly what Siegel & strain had projected in 2005.
With Siegel & Strain disgraced for their “overpriced” design, Save the Plunge Trust pushed for Todd Jersey to be awarded a sole source contract to design a “less expensive” Plunge rehabilitation project. At the November 17, 2003, meeting of STPT, Ellie Strauss said, “…a Berkeley architect was so moved by watching ‘Time Laps Through History’ that he has offered to work on plans at a much lower figure than other architects.” To date, Todd Jersey and associated consultants have been paid nearly $700,000 in “much lower” design fees.
The recommendations for a two-pool solution were dropped by Jersey and the Save the Plunge Trust, which had taken over programming of the future facility.
I wanted to verify the previous recommendations of the Sports Management Group as well as get their perspective on the current bulkhead controversy, so I contacted Lauren Livingston, President. Here is what she had to say:
The Bulkhead – Pro and Con
Many arguments have been mounted against the bulkhead by opponents, but all have been discredited. Following is a discussion of many of the issues:
· Pool Usage: Those who have supported the bulkhead have been accused of wanting to turn the Plunge into a competition pool. This is not their intention or desire, and a bulkhead would not turn the Plunge into a strictly “competition pool”. It would just increase the flexibility and allow the pool to be much more widely and consistently used by the whole community. El Cerrito and Hayward both keep their pools open for 12-14 hours daily, while Berkeley pools are open 10-12 hours daily. Swim team practices, both youth and masters, would take up to two hours, 3-5 times per week in half the pool, using less than 5 percent of the program time. This is a critical point. Swim teams, using very little of the overall program time, bring in a very significant percentage of the annual pool uses by the community.
While the opponents of the bulkhead continue to say that 20 yards is a long enough course for lap swimming, the truth is that it would not be sufficient for more serious swimmers who would be the most regular and consistent users of the facility. A swim team would never train at this length, master’s swimmers will go elsewhere, and strong lap swimmers will seek other pools to swim in. This is an indisputable fact.
· Cost and Economics: There continues to be dispute about whether the bulkhead will cost $350,000 or as little as $250,000, but even with the higher figure, it is only 4% of the total rehabilitation cost, a marginal amount to substantially increase its flexibility and the opportunity to increase revenues beyond what it even takes to amortize the bulkhead cost. Fees from an additional 6,000-12,000 swimmer-visits per year (swim team, masters team, fitness swimmers) will bring in from $20,000-45,000 yearly. The key is that many more regular swimmers will use the Plunge on an ongoing basis, generating key revenue for the city as well as aquatic focus and talent to spill over into all aspects of the aquatics program. The city manager’s latest plan is to use a portion of the $1.9 million remaining from the Civic Center rehabilitation to fund the bulkhead.
· Pool Temperature: Anti-bulkhead activists have publicly stated that that they want a temperature of 84 degrees. Proponents of a bulkhead would like to have a temperature of 82-83 degrees. All this controversy is over a 1 or 2 degree temperature difference. An ideal temperature for a swim team and master’s team would be about 80-81 degrees. Ideal temperature for swim lessons would be about 83-84 degrees. Ideal temperature for recreational swim is 82 degrees, and the temperature of most large municipal pools is kept around 82 degrees. This allows a balance for all the uses. Bulkhead proponents have never asked or wanted a pool temperature of 78, 79, or 80. So a good compromise would be at about 82.5 degrees. As a functional matter, heating water at the Plunge above even 82.5 degrees carries significant potential for damage and operating costs. As water temperatures rise, humidity increases, which adversely affects both the wood and steel materials from which the Plunge is constructed, a well as paints and coatings. Historically, older pool users have demanded and have been successful in getting higher water temperatures at Richmond pools. This practice played a major role in hastening the damage that caused the Plunge to close, and it has already substantially damaged the Richmond Swim Center. The Plunge is naturally cross-ventilated by operable windows, which tend to cool the air. In prior operation, older users once again protested, and staff kept the windows closed in response, raising the damaging humidity even more. Architect Todd Jersey says radiant heaters will mitigate this problem, and while I am skeptical, even if he is right, the heat loss from high water temperatures will drive up operating costs, even with solar heaters and pool covers.
· Swim lessons: Swim lessons would be affected positively by a bulkhead. The swim teams would swim in the deep end and swim lessons will be in the shallow-end. The improvement would be due to: (1) Members of the swim team will eventually become the majority of swim teachers and provide an excellent feeder system, recruiting friends and family and building community, (2) Many young swimmers and non-swimmers alike will be curious and motivated to take extra swim lessons and want to become part of the swim program, and (3) Additionally, the bulkhead will keep a clear and delineated area for lessons.
· Water aerobics/exercises: The bulkhead will not affect these classes. Currently at Richmond Swim Center, the most popular class is the Water Aerobics. The whole group of 35-40 people stand between three feet and four feet. At the Hilltop YMCA, the class also works out between three and four feet. The attached photo shows a typical water aerobics class sharing a regulation swimming pool, similar to the classes at RSC and Hilltop Y. Typical guidelines for water aerobics state that it is a shallow water exercise normally performed in water that ranges from mid-rib cage to mid-chest depth. They cite 3.5 to 4.5 feet depth as typical.
Below is a photo of a typical water aerobics class Note water depth of 3.5 to 4.5 feet.
At the Plunge, when the bulkhead is at its normal 25-yd mid-pool position, the water depth on the north side of the bulkhead will be 4’-3” and on the south side 4’-2”. Therefore, the water aerobics class could be conducted on the south side of the bulkhead providing water depths with a slightly greater depth than at RSC or the Hilltop Y. The class could occur while not interfering with any lap swimming or other activities on the north side of the bulkhead. If there became a demand to have deeper water conditions (e.g., 4’-3” up to 5’ depth) for taller individuals, there would be approximately 30 feet of additional pool length on the north side of the bulkhead that could be used before the slope of the pool bottom drops off steeply. This could be used by either moving the bulkhead, or the taller individuals could simply stand on the other (north) side of the bulkhead, and lane lines for lap swimming could be temporarily reoriented in the 20-yd (width) direction during the class. A very simple fix and something that an effective aquatics program will easily develop. A deep-water class could very easily operate in the deep end of the Plunge (with some number of lane lines removed); but this is a completely different class for a different set of advanced exercisers.
Below is a diagram of how the bulkhead would likely be configured to provide maximum flexibility.
Life Guards: Life Guards come from swim programs. Some of the current life guards at Richmond Swim Center come from the Albany, El Cerrito, Hercules and Oakland swim teams. None are from a swimming program here in Richmond. With a bulkhead, we will be able to easily recruit Richmond residents from our own swim programs to be life guards.
· Comparison with other Municipalities: El Cerrito, Hercules, and Pinole all have populations of about 20,000 people and one, regulation 25-yard pool. Berkeley has three for its 100,000 citizens. Richmond will have either one or two, depending on whether a bulkhead is installed for its 100,000 citizens. This last February the voters in Albany (20,000 population) approved a $10 million bond measure to re-construct their current non-standard (40’ x 100’) community swimming pool to a regulation-length pool to “...provide students and the community with adequate swimming facilities for school; adult school; athletic competition; recreational use, including therapeutic and instruction swim, ...".
· Lap Swimming: It has been claimed by the opponents that the bulkhead would be worse for lap swimming because it will reduce the total number of lanes available. Yes, the number of lanes will be reduced from 14 to 12, but the length and quality of the swim lanes will be greatly improved by establishing seven regulation 25-yd lanes on the north side of the bulkhead. The other 5 lanes would be in the 20-yd direction on the south side of the bulkhead. See attached diagram of this configuration. The bulkhead will create much higher quality lap swimming opportunities, attractive to a significant segment of the population. From the swimmer’s perspective, lap swimming will unquestionably be improved greatly by a bulkhead.
· The Richmond Swim Center and Richmond Aquatics Staff. For reasons that are not clear, the Richmond Aquatics staff has been co-opted by the anti-bulkhead forces. This appears to be largely the work of the supervisor, Araceli Lee. Representations have been made that a more flexible and functionally attractive Plunge would undermine the use of the Richmond Swim Center, thereby reducing its use. Some see this as a racial or class conflict and want to punish people with these alleged predispositions by forcing them to come to the Richmond Swim Center for their workouts. As far as I am concerned, the Richmond aquatics staff, or at least their leadership, is thoroughly discredited already and their opinions pretty much worthless. They raised the water the temperature in pool higher than the facility was designed for and damaged it in the process. They operate no competitive swimming programs there, and don’t even have a lap clock in case someone shows up and wants to work out. The pool was built at Kennedy High School to encourage use by Kennedy and other high school students in competitive swimming programs, but it’ s not even used for PE. Last time I peeked in, the place was dark and gloomy and almost deserted. What did catch my eye was anti-bulkhead posters plastered all over, indicating that the staff supervisor had become an active fomenter of anti-bulkheadism even after the City Council had voted 5-1 to install it. It’s virtually impossible to find out what programs are offered at the Richmond Swim Center. There is almost nothing on the City website about aquatics programs, and the only source is a pamphlet that you have to pick up at the Swim Center. It has no information about competitive swimming, which the staff and others would lead you to believe must only take place at the Richmond Swim Center.
Richmond, even more than many urban and rural communities has to face the devastating consequences of the disenfranchisement of its youth. Although it is easy to try to isolate family structure, class and race as determinant factors, the disenfranchisement of our children is evident in all communities. Where do our youth go for the support they need to make meaningful connections with their own identities and their world? The conditions of the economy are eroding many of our families. Our schools and cities, too, are continually confronting big financial challenges. When was the last time you could identify a school nurse, a site counselor, or even a PE teacher? What real opportunities await our graduates, and as tuition increases hit our colleges, how accessible are higher education opportunities?
We do not have to look far to see the results. Our children, unconnected to a confidence in having a meaningful place in their communities harm themselves, and unfortunately others in many ways.
So, how we can create more and better opportunities for our children? Washington school, with approximately 75 percent transfer students, students of color, and students on free lunch, is a few blocks away. Lincoln Elementary school, with over 98 percent of students on free lunch and children of color (predominantly Latino) is a half-mile away. These communities need meaningful opportunities after school, especially ones they can walk or ride their bikes to.
Children will live up to our expectations. If our expectation is that it doesn’t matter that 6 out of 10 African American and Latino kids can’t swim and there is nothing that we can do to change that, then we will continue to have this cycle (and no bulkhead). We can do something about that, and the Plunge is the place to do it!
Following are some letters and media coverage:
Mayor McLaughlin, and
City of Richmond, Calif.
Dear Mayor McLaughlin and City Council Members,
It is truly shameful that the Bulkhead Issue has come down to what I am witnessing recently. As hard as they worked to bring the Plunge Restoration Project to fruition, Ellie and Bob Strauss and the Richmond Friends of Recreation (RFOR) and the Save the Plunge Trust (STPT) are now working equally as hard to defeat the Bulkhead. You and the local community have been fed misinformation related to the installation and functionality of the Bulkhead. Whether this misinformation was delivered knowingly or not, I am not going to speculate. Without the RFOR and the STPT people – and I count myself among their numbers, we would not be in a position to be debating on this issue. As I have stated before many times, Richmond and the surrounding communities, if not the entire Bay Area, owe a great deal of appreciation to these folks for what they have accomplished. The Richmond Plunge is truly a Bay Area Historical Landmark. Only the Hayward Plunge built in 1935 comes close to having the same history.
In my humble opinion not one of the many activities that have been mentioned as being planned for the Plunge will be impacted in any significant manner or degree by the installation of the proposed bulkhead. Swim Lessons can still be held in water temperatures recommended by the Richmond Bulkhead Coalition (RBC), if they and you will allow me to give them a name for their group. Physical Therapy will still thrive at these temperatures, as will recreational swimming. So, that should put the temperature issue to rest. There are pools up and down the State that provide for these same activities, and they all arrive at a compromise on water temperature. This compromise to the 82-83 degree temperature range suggested by the RBC is what you find at most of these facilities. In many cases you find the temperatures even lower. One of the reasons for this is the simple dollar cost of maintaining a pool at these higher temperatures.
How about activities like kayaking and canoeing? The Plunge’s history with canoes goes back as far as I can remember. A bulkhead is not going to impede these activities even if it is left in the mid-pool position. The main reason that kayakers come to a pool environment is to practice their maneuvers. The maneuver of righting a kayak that has turned over (upside down) can best be practiced and learned in a swimming pool where you do not have to deal with currents. Kayaks and canoes are not in the pool for paddling conditioning; they are there to practice and learn paddling techniques, which do not require the kayak or canoe to travel any significant distance in the water. My dad’s family and my family have been involved with canoes and kayaks for all of our lives. I am fairly familiar with the training and paddling techniques employed for both open-water usage as well as fast moving, white water conditions.
I am going to let the other proponents of the Bulkhead give you the numbers for the economic viability of the Bulkhead. Here are my final thoughts on this issue:
Former Point Richmond Resident
Harry Ells Graduate – 1962
Retired, Lockheed Martin and Captain, US Navy
12827 Lakeshore North; Auburn, CA 95602;
Good Morning All:
Richmond Plunge divider plan has residents split
Posted: 11/18/2009 02:07:54 AM PST
Updated: 11/18/2009 05:49:44 PM PST
Debate over whether the popular Richmond Plunge can support both competitive and recreational swimming when it reopens early next year is dividing residents in this city.
Accommodating both uses requires installing a $350,000 movable bulkhead that essentially acts as a partition to create a 25-yard short course for lap swimming in the pool's deep end and recreational use in the shallow end.
The City Council saw the public divide as one between older residents who fondly remember the Plunge working fine the way it was and young families seeking to modify it to meet the needs of today's youth. After three hours of public comments and debate, the City Council voted 5-1 late Tuesday night to add the bulkhead.
"It's do it now or never do it," Councilman Tom Butt said. "The Plunge is going to be around for another 50 years."
Supporters told the council that partitioning space at the pool for competitive use would meet local needs and guarantee the kind of revenue that will keep the facility afloat financially.
"To leave out the bulkhead limits its potential use. To include it limits nothing," said Elizabeth Duff, president of the nonprofit community group Parents, Resources and More in Richmond.
But some worry a bulkhead would be risky, expensive and cumbersome, requiring multiple people to move it. The city-run Richmond Swim Center at Kennedy High School, they note, already allows competitive use.
"I don't believe the bulkhead is going to be easily moved," said Robert Strauss, treasurer of the Save the Richmond Plunge Trust.
Councilman Nat Bates dissented, citing the city's budget constraints. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was absent.
Officials will hunt for funding, and left open the possibility of tapping the reserve. Adding the bulkhead delays the Plunge's opening day by up to two months, City Manager Bill Lindsay said.
Formally named the Richmond Municipal Natatorium, the Plunge opened in 1926 in Point Richmond and drew throngs of people to its waters until structural problems forced its closure in 2001. Residents refused to let it languish and cobbled together enough grants and donations to help start the $8 million renovation last year.
At first, county health officials rejected the notion of a bulkhead because it did not meet safety standards. But the city assuaged those concerns by proposing to add panels to the bottom of the bulkhead. The panels essentially create a wall that shrinks the gap between the bottom of the bulkhead and the bottom of the pool where someone could potentially get through or stuck.
Two people will be needed to move the fiberglass bulkhead. Three people might be needed to reconfigure the pool and manually lower the four panels from the bottom of the bulkhead, officials said. Each panel weighs 400 pounds, they added; supporter Norm Hantzsche said the figure is closer to 200 pounds after taking into account the water's buoyancy.
A number of parents with young families said they want to bring their children to the Plunge to swim competitively. Richmond resident Christina Scott, who has four children and also takes care of two nephews, said youth need this kind of activity for physical and mental health. Her eldest son is eager to join a Richmond swim team and train at the Plunge, she said.
Hantzsche estimated the city would collect enough revenue to make up for the bulkhead's cost in as little as five years. Lindsay said 10 years is more realistic.
But others worry that children will try to mount the bulkhead, creating a safety hazard that requires extra supervision. The bulkhead "skirt" hasn't been used elsewhere, and Lindsay said it could be "problematic operationally."
The water temperature for competitive and recreational swimming differs, and it will be hard to accommodate both in the same pool, opponents added. A well-designed city aquatics program incorporates and coordinates uses at both city pools would provide opportunities for everyone without having to install a bulkhead at the Plunge.
In looking for funding sources, some council members were adamant about not taking anymore of last year's voter-approved regional park bond Measure WW. The council voted in September to use $3.1 million from its share of the park bonds to renovate the Plunge. Richmond's total allocation is $4.7 million. Critics said funneling two-thirds of the Measure WW money to a single project was unwise and unfair, especially when parks citywide need help.
About $300,000 of Measure WW was allotted to the Bay Trail. Projects at Shields-Reid, Burg, Wendell, Shimada Friendship and Marina Bay parks are vying for the remaining $1.3 million. The needs exceed available dollars by about $740,000.
The Parks and Recreation Commission will prioritize the projects. The council has the final say.
Katherine Tam covers Richmond. Follow her at twitter.com/katherinetam.