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Palo Alto expands kids’ swim lessons at Rinconada

Posted by | January 12, 2017 | Swim Lessons

Swim season will start early this year in Palo Alto, but it will come at a higher cost.Starting in April, the city will work with Team Sheeper Inc., an aquatics and management company, to double its offering of swim lessons for kids.The City Council on Monday unanimously approved a contract not to exceed $143,000 with Team Sheeper to oversee all swim lessons. In the summers of 2015 and 2016, Palo Alto only called the company when it couldn’t find enough instructors for classes.Other parts of pool management such as lifeguards during lap swims and the competitive swim team will continue to be handled by city staff.The city plans to open the Rinconada wading pool at 777 Embarcadero Road for public swim lessons from April to October. The cloverleaf-shaped children’s pool has sat unused for most of the spring and fall.Some swim lessons also will be offered at the Jane Lathrop Stanford Pool, 480 E. Meadow Drive.Resident Timothy Wong, who swims at a Menlo Park pool also managed by Team Sheeper, said Rinconada, where he also swims, will be in good hands. He applauded the council for being “forward looking” in expanding hours and services.The changes come with a price increase for participants.Residents will see group lessons go from $11 to $16 per class and private lessons from $24 to $35.Prices for nonresidents will increase from $12 to $22 per class for group lessons and $26 to $63 for private lessons.Under the new structure, the city will continue to subsidize classes for residents at $6 per group lesson and $28 per private lesson. Without those subsidies, residents and nonresidents would pay the same amounts.The city also will continue a fee reduction program for low-income Palo Alto youths.Members of the Parks and Recreation Commission and city staff have said that they do not want cost to be a barrier to children learning how to swim.Commissioner Anne Cribbs expressed support for the city contributing $6 for every group lesson that otherwise would cost $22.“Even though Palo Alto’s supposed to have a lot of money, there are families here who will find this very difficult to afford $22 for one single lesson,” Cribbs said.The city needs to give kids every opportunity to learn to swim because drowning remains a high cause of death for youths, Cribbs said. She also supports opening the pool year round for lessons, though city staff cited high costs for warming the pool in winter.The city decided to reduce subsidies this year and increase cost sharing with residents so it could offer more lessons than in the past, according to a staff report.The contract with Team Sheeper was initially met with resistance from the city’s most ardent lap and competitive swimmers.Swimmers who frequent Rinconada’s 14-lane lap pool year round, such as Palo Alto resident Barbara Rieder, were concerned the expanded kids’ lessons would cut into their time at the pool and mix up their lanes.For about two hours every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Rieder walks 15 minutes from her home to join her husband at the pool. Each time, she swims about 1,000 yards.Rieder’s husband, who swims about four times the distance she does, starts earlier.Rieder was most concerned that she, a recreational lap swimmer, would have to share lanes with the adult competitive Masters swim team.“At 76 years old, I like my own workout,” Rieder said. “I don’t want to march to someone else’s pace.”Lap swimmers, the majority of whom are retired, vary greatly in skill level and have to be matched accordingly, Rieder said.“Otherwise, you’re crashing into each other,” Rieder said. “It doesn’t work for anybody.”Rieder also was concerned that more hours for kids’ lessons mean less hours for her midday swims, which she depends on for exercise and relaxation.After meeting with the city’s Park and Recreation staff in December and having a couple of “coffee chats” poolside, Rieder said she better understands the city’s plans with Team Sheeper and feels the city responded to her concerns.Lap swim hours may be reduced during the summer months, but Rieder won’t have to share lanes with Master swimmers.Aside from swim lessons, recreational lap swim and lanes for master swimmers, the pool also is used by a youth competitive team and family recreational swim.Park and Recreation officials have grappled in recent years with how to maintain services for residents’ varied needs when there’s a shortage of aquatics staff.“The biggest challenge has been that the city currently only has the ability to hire part-time staff to work under 1,000 hours each per year but Rinconada has a need for employees who can work year round to staff the lap swim program,” staff said in a report.The city struggles to attract students, who opt for higher-paying jobs. Also, the students who do work for the aquatics program typically stop doing so when school starts.For the summers of 2015 and 2016, the city had to sign emergency contracts with Team Sheeper for the Learn-to-Swim program to avoid closures and cance


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