Schools notebook // Some less than satisfied with renovated pool

FULTON — The start of the fall swimming season revealed widespread dissatisfaction with the $1.4-million renovation of Southwest High School’s swimming pool.

A major overhaul of the district’s only facility capable of hosting swimming competitions, the project began when the pool was drained in June 2011. Most of the renovation was complete by January, and the pool now features an elevated viewing area, remodeled boys’ and girls’ locker rooms, a new sound-absorbing ceiling and a deeper diving area that now meets state code.

But parents like Kim Cameron of Linden Hills say sight-lines are so poor in the mezzanine-level seating area that only viewers in the front row can see all six lanes of the pool. Cameron and others also raised concerns about the air quality and noise levels in the pool and wondered why newly installed lockers were already covered in rust.

“What’s our return on investment?” Cameron shouted over the echoing din during a swim meet in September.

One week earlier, 72 spectators at a Sept. 12 swim meet responded to a parent-initiated survey, and 45 rated their impression of the pool “unfavorable.” The new, elevated seating area and the indoor air quality also were rated “unsatisfactory” or “very unsatisfactory” by a majority of respondents.

Air quality was Cameron’s top concern, and interim district Facilities Director Clyde Kane placed the blame for the strong chlorine odors on a malfunctioning dehumidifier. The unit was evaluated prior to the start of the project and determined to have “at least 50-percent of its life,” Kane said, but now it appears it must be replaced.

“About three weeks ago we started having problems with it, and we’ve had maintenance people there almost on a daily basis making sure that we can keep it going,” he said.

As for the rusty lockers, Kane said they were defective and would be replaced by the supplier. A sloppy, streaky paint job was the problem in that case, he said.

Kane said the metal slats hung on the ceiling during the renovation, and the sound absorbing material hidden above them, “are considered a very good solution for swimming pool installations, and it’s not unusual,” although part of the new ceiling was damaged in September in an incident of “student vandalism.”

The seating area, he continued, was the best solution the design team could come up with for the cramped pool space.

“They knew that things wouldn’t be optimum, but they did want the additional viewing, so they proceeded with it,” he said.

The Southwest pool is already somewhat unusual, only six lanes wide instead of the typical eight. A full eight-lane pool was given consideration, but the project carried a hefty price tag and would have required removing classrooms at Southwest — pretty much a non-starter at the filled-to-capacity school, Kane said.

School Board adopts preliminary levy

Minneapolis Public Schools aims to increase its property tax levy by 4 percent in 2013, a smaller increase than was first proposed by district administrators.

The School Board adopted a resolution calling for the smaller increase at its Sept. 25 meeting. If approved in December, the owners of a house at the city’s median value of $171,000 would see their property taxes increase by $61.05 in 2013.

The 7.4-percent increase proposed by district administration two weeks earlier would have increased property taxes on that same home almost another $30, to $90.25. Push back from School Board members influenced the revisions, but several on the School Board noted the smaller property tax increase would still be a burden for some city taxpayers.

Factors driving the levy increase include employee pension obligations, increasing district enrollment and ongoing efforts to manage class sizes.

The district plans to hold community meetings and public comment sessions on the proposed levy increase in December.

Davis Center grand opening is Oct. 4

The public is invited to check out the district’s new headquarters building during the official grand opening this month.

The free event is 5 p.m.–7 p.m. Oct. 4 at the new John B. Davis Education and Service Center, 1250 W. Broadway Ave., and will feature tours, refreshments and musical entertainment by district students.

National Merit semifinalists announced

Between the three of them, Southwest and Washburn high schools and The Blake School had 21 students named National Merit Semifinalists in September.

There were: Southwest students Brendan Berg, Madelaine Foster, Vienna Larche, Vincent Puzak, Helena Scholz-Carlson and Kieran Schwartz; Washburn student Mayson Lee; and Blake students Claire Carpenter, Alexander Crane, Aditi Gupta, Kelsey Hayes, Alexander Herkert, Alexandria Herr, Laine Higgins, Janhawi Kelkar, Beatrice Lim, Kalpit Modi, Kelsey Myers, Alexandra Peterson, Timothy Pruett and Daniel Weiser.

They were among about 16,000 students nationwide named semifinalists based on their scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test. Finalists for the Merit Scholarship awards will be announced in February.