A group that wants to keep the Panther Valley School District swimming pool open to the public has asked the school board to maintain the facility for 90 days while they devise a business plan and perform a feasibility study to see if they can generate enough money to operate the pool. If the board agrees, the group will deliver a check for the $2,347, the cost of maintaining the pool for three months, to the district first thing Monday. The pool, however, would remain closed through that period.
The school board expects to decide on the proposal tonight.
The board had closed the pool in May 2011 to cut costs. In October of that year, it signed a one-year, $69,500 contract with a group called Water Wellness. The company would use the pool for swimming lessons, parties, therapeutic, and other aquatic activities.
But the company has not made its monthly payments to the school district, and owed $37,000 by the time the contract ended in December. Because the terms of the contract had not been met, the district closed the pool.
The new group's representatives, Susan Whitehead and Mary Lou Harvan, approached the school board's Buildings and Grounds Committee on Wednesday with their proposal. Because it is a new entity, the group would not be responsible for Water Wellness' debt.
The committee members' responses were varied. Bill Hunsicker, who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chairman David Hiles, asked those attending for their thoughts.
The committee members, for the most part, would like to see the pool remain viable, but are concerned that the proposed nonprofit won't be able to generate enough income to cover the costs. Further, the board is concerned about who, if anyone, would pay the $37,000 in debt incurred by Water Wellness.
School director Richard Zabroski said the school district should immediately begin legal action to recoup the debt.
"We're playing with taxpayers' money here," he said.
Zabroski said he would be willing to give the group 90 days, provided they pay the $2,347. But at the end of that time, the group must have a business plan, a nonprofit status and other steps in place, he said.
Zabroski was skeptical, though.
"We've been promised money in the past, and it's not there," he said.
School director Michelle Markovich said she was concerned that, in the case of Water Wellness, the district had used taxpayer money to fund a private business venture. That was wrong, she said.
School director Anthony DeMarco also was concerned about whether the new group would be able to support its venture, given that it has yet to even have established an identity.
School director Irene Genther said that group would need time to establish itself as a nonprofit entity, but suggested it would be good for the district to have the pool remain open to the public.
"It could end up to be a wonderful thing," she said.
Hunsicker said he was concerned about the debt, too, and whether the new group would be able to raise enough money. He, too, urged immediate legal action to recoup the money.
Board President Jeff Markovich said that the board had voted in May 2011 to close the pool. He said that it could be filled in and used as classroom space, given that children housed in trailers at the elementary school have had to walk in freezing weather to get to bathrooms and have lunch in the actual school building.
Further, he said, the contract with Water Wellness is "null and void," and so the board is back to the same place it was in May 2011.
When asked for his thoughts, school director Roy Angst said, "you don't really want me to speak my mind. If I do, you'll blow up and leave ..."
Hunsicker, who sits next to Angst at the board table, said, "I'm giving you a chance to speak. Get to the point."
"Well then shut your mouth," Angst said.
Moving on, school district maintenance manager George Krajnak said his opinion was that "it takes money to run it, and if it's there and you want to run it, great. If it's not there, then we need to do something else with it."
At that point, Angst said "are you going to allow me to speak or not?"
"Yes, please," Hunsicker said.
"If it weren't for the irresponsible actions of the board President ..." Angst said, pointing at board President Jeff Markovich.
Angst has been angry with Markovich, Superintendent Rose Porembo and other administrators, accusing them of not telling him and other board members that Water Wellness had fallen behind on payments.
At that point, Angst was asked by board members to "not go there."
Angst, pointing, shouted "We would have faced this issue ..." and was again asked to calm down. Zabroski tried to explain that even Water Wellness members had not known the bills weren't being paid, and that the pool was closed at the end of the one-year contract.
Angst persisted, loudly insisting that he had the floor and was entitled to speak. He said that if it weren't for others' "precipitous action that was taken in closing the pool down, I wouldn't have a decision to make. Now I have a decision to make, and it looks like, do I want to gamble $2,347 on the chance of perhaps saving $37,000? And if that's the resolution that is put in front of me tomorrow night, I have a decision to make.
"But I will state my piece about the irresponsible actions that got us here," he shouted. Jeff Markovich reminded Angst that he voted to close the pool in May 2011.
"I want the facts," Angst said. As Zabroski tried to talk with him, Angst shouted that he intended to "speak my piece" even if administrators called in Summit Hill police "or the National Guard."
Harvan and Whitehead said the group already has dues-paying members and is working on grants and other income. They are meeting regularly, and are working with Lehigh Carbon Community College's business school to to plan their business model.