Club asks BI parks to stop pool fee

Supporters of the Bainbridge High School water polo team must feel like they are treading water.

After being rebuked by the school district, they approached the parks district Thursday in an effort to stay afloat, only to be rebuked again.

After a long discussion, Dawn Janow, parks board chair, said, “Talk to the school district so you can get sanctioned.”

They have been. The Bainbridge Island School District refuses to call water polo a school-sanctioned sport, instead calling it a club.

For 35-plus years the water polo teams have been able to use pools for free. But since BISD in 2017 decided it’s a club, it must now pay for pool use, parks executive director Terry Lande said.

“Nobody knew what is was for 35 years,” said Lande, of Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation.

Participants in club sports, such as lacrosse, rowing and sailing, all pay fees to their clubs, Lande said.

“If lacrosse used our field they would pay for that,” Lande said, adding because the school district has no oversight water polo is not covered by the park’s agreement with the high school to use facilities for free.

Ruth Baydo and Raelene Rossert spoke on behalf of the water polo team.

Baydo said the team has never been charged and nothing has changed. She said the city waives some fees for other club sports.

Rossert said the park district’s own policy says any team that plays interscholastically would not be charged. She said the park district could waive the fee if the club is operated by a nonprofit. “No matter what the high school says, you guys could probably find we are” eligible for a fee waiver, she said.

Rossert said legally water polo could be called a club, but the intent of the agreement with the high school is for all to have equitable use of the pool during their sports season. She said the school and park district have a responsibility to “make this go away” not just for this year, but from now on.

Rossert said the water polo team has a meeting with the school board next week to continue discussions about being a team or club sport.

The pair also was upset because the water polo team was told it would not be charged this year, and then it was told it would have to pay half of the $12,000 initially billed.

Lande said the team was misinformed, and it was an honest mistake.

“We already refunded our families for the pool fees,” Baydo said.

Lande said the school district “has been messing with this for some time,” but since water polo pays its own coaches, has its own insurance and nothing is run by the school it is a club sport. That brings up a liability issue for parks because it’s not covered in the contract with the school district.

And, it’s not like the water polo team didn’t know this was coming, he said, adding it’s known about the pool costs for a few years.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Jay Kinney wondered if the board should weigh in on the issue in an official capacity. However, he said parks staff has to have some autonomy because the board can’t step in every time anyone complains. “If we second-guess staff we’d have a big mess on our hands,” he said. He added that the board may need to establish a policy on charging club sports.

Park staff roundup

Lande said staff is going through a lot of training right now and working on a smooth transition at the Bainbridge Island Recreation Center, formerly the BI Athletic Club. “Everything’s being tracked differently,” and there’s new software to learn, he said.

Bryan Garoutte, recreation superintendent, said 722 people used the facility in its first week. There are six personal trainers and 10 instructors, and they are looking for more staff to add even more classes. “Most of our classes are full,” he said, “with people happy to be back in the gym” after it was closed for the transition.

He said about 500 kids are participating in soccer, along with 80 adults in another league. He also said a pottery class made trays for the Hitchcock restaurant.

Mark Benishek, recreation director, said the first full week of parks district programming was underway with most classes full with waiting lists. He hopes to add more classes with people from those lists.

Regarding community events, he said he hopes to expand the summer concert series next year. The Haunted Hayride with be the same as last year due to COVID-19 with a drive-through format. He said Holiday at Fay will be COVID-friendly, too.

At the Aquatic Center, Benishek said the swim team is growing and has a wait list, as does the adult team with 150 members. Because of a shortage of lifeguards the pool is closed for two hours during its slowest times in the afternoon.

In other news

The parks board also passed a resolution allowing district employees and their families with kids age 19 and younger to use the BI Rec Center for free. “That’s an awesome benefit to our employees,” Janow said.

The parks board also approved easements for two trails – Koura/Yukio and Bolero. The first will cost $17,000 for trail improvements. The other was completely donated.

Commissioner Ken DeWitt said of the the parks foundation on the first one, they “worked long and hard on that. It was not the easiest easement to get done.”

To conclude, Kinney said in contemplating an off-leash dog park at Pritchard Park the district needs to check with people who live along the nearby shoreline because they may not want that.