As the sun swelters over San Benito County this summer, residents are left without a local community pool to help beat the heat.
Instead of cycling or walking to a public pool in the city, Hollister residents must get in their car, hit the highway and drive to Morgan Hill or Gilroy to fly down a waterslide or swim a few laps.
“They love to swim, so we have to go to Christopher High School in Gilroy or we have to make a water slide at the house,” said Gabby Hernandez, 18, as she watched her young niece and nephew on Tuesday as they splashed around in Hollister’s only public water feature—a metal-framed sprinkler system in the shape of a whale at Valley View Park.
The county was not always so parched. There used to be a pool at Bolado Park, said Management Analyst Louie Valdez.
“There was a death at the pool and that’s why [the county] closed it,” Valdez said. “That was about 15 years ago.”
San Benito High School used to open their pool to the public, but stopped when the pool shut down two years ago because of wastewater entering the gutters.
“That pool right now is in such bad shape it’s being held together by a wing, a prayer and a bit of Band-Aids,” said SBHS Aquatics Coach and Hollister for Aquatics Chief Operations Officer Jud Shutts. “It’s been shut down for three weeks for maintenance issues. It’s not a good story. That pool will barely make it through next season.”
Earlier this year, Hollister for Aquatics, a local nonprofit, presented a plan for a community-accessible aquatic center that could be jointly funded by the City of Hollister, San Benito County and the San Benito High School District. Hollister for Aquatics would administer and operate the center.
The community aquatic center would tie in with future plans for two new pools at the high school. Construction of the 50-meter and 25-yard pools is expected to begin later this year.
“Breaking ground will be the first day after football season ends,” said Shutts. “The location for those pools is going to be where the current stadium is.”
Hollister for Aquatics envisions an aquatic center that includes a waterslide, lazy river, wave generator, wave pool, snack bar with concession areas, meeting rooms and more.
Garnering support for the project, however, has been a challenge.
“The county has said repeatedly that they don’t have any money and they aren’t working very hard to come up with money to fund it,” said Shutts.
The city has been more positive about an aquatic center, he said.
“At least [Mayor Ignacio Velazquez] wants the recreation center to go ahead. With some reservation, they are behind it.”
Shutts plans to give a presentation at the upcoming September 7 intergovernmental meeting between Hollister, San Juan and San Benito County with San Benito High School District Superintendent Shawn Tennenbaum.
“Shawn and I will give a presentation asking for a memorandum of understanding from the city and county that they include in their impact fees some money to fund the recreation portion,” he said.
The sole option for water recreation in Hollister resides at Valley View Park in the form of a blue whale. It’s the only city park with a water feature, known as a splash pad.
“It was installed as part of the development of the park around 2005 and was the highest priority element identified through a series of public meetings for the design of the park,” Interim Engineering Manager and City Engineer David Rubcic said via email. “As the [Parks Facility Master Plan] has not yet been developed, there is no indication if there will be or won’t be a water/aquatic feature included in the plan.”
Adding a water feature like the one at Valley View Park would require the installation of a bathroom, Rubcic said, adding to the project’s cost.
“The cost of the installation would include approximately $120,000 for the bathroom and about $180,000 for the splash pad,” he said. “So with planning, the cost would be well over $300,000 for the installation of a splash pad like the Valley View Park.”
Rubcic said there has been a lot of talk about an aquatic center during the five recent meetings on the master plan, but it’s too early to tell if a community aquatic center could be part of the plan.
With local government funding left uncertain, Hollister for Aquatics board members recently decided to pursue private donors to contribute to the project, Shutts said.
“We’re looking to get the public involved,” he said. “I haven’t talked to anyone who’s said ‘Hey we don’t need a swimming pool.’”
The new high school pools are set to be constructed by the end of next year, Shutts said. The high school is going to allow Hollister for Aquatics to open the pools before and after school for the general public.
“We’ll start creating some activities for the public to use those facilities,” Shutts said. “As far as being a true recreation center with a wave generator and water slides, that’s going to take a little more time to get done.”