Concerned about the increased numbers of youngsters who drown in area lakes and rivers during summer months, Fairfax City school officials have asked City Council members for almost $1 million to build a new pool at Fairfax High School in order to teach more students to swim.
School Superintendent Robert Russell said he wants to "waterproof all our school-aged children" and establish swim classes as part of the curriculum in the city's schools by the 1990-91 academic year.
If the City Council approves the School Board's request, Fairfax High will be the first school in the Fairfax County school system with an instructional swim program and its own swimming pool. School Board members included the pool request in a proposed $2.7 million, five-year capital improvement plan for the city's six public schools. The plan was recently forwarded to the City Council, which funds the city school system, for consideration.
Currently, Fairfax County and city schools use the pools at public recreational centers for swim team practices and meets.
Fairfax City pays the county $11 million a year for maintenance and daily operations of its schools. Funding for school equipment and building additions comes from the City Council.
Russell said the majority of Fairfax City's youngsters do not know how to swim properly. He said the proposed pool would make it easier to teach students the basic strokes, as well as provide the community with a neighborhood pool.
Russell said that about 70 percent of the pool's use would be for Fairfax City residents on weekends, during the summer or whenever school is not in session. He said he was not certain whether the board's estimated $800,000 price tag would adequately cover the cost of the pool in 1990. "I don't know what $800,000 would buy five years from now," Russell said. "I just thought, 'Let's put it out there and see what kind of interest we have.' "
Opponents of the proposed pool said it would be "extravagant" to build a swim facility in the city when the Fairfax County Park Authority plans to open a new $5 million community recreation center about two miles west of the high school.
Park authority officials said the new community center, to be located at 3134 Jermantown Rd., will be equipped with a 50-meter indoor pool, racquetball courts, a sauna and a weight room, among other features. The facility is scheduled to open in 1987.
School Board member James C. Smith II, who cast the sole dissenting vote against the proposal, said he doubted whether Fairfax City needs its own pool when the county is going to open a facility in the area.
"I'm not all that excited about it. There are enough pools scattered around the city so enough people can join them," Smith said in a telephone interview. "One wonders about the reason to undertake a pool as a general taxpayer responsibility. Maybe families should have the responsibility [to teach youngsters to swim] as opposed to the community as a whole."
Smith said he would rather wait until the county school system establishes a water safety program in its curriculum, "and then the county would operate it as part of the overall school program -- if it can be justified as part of the educational program."
Russell emphasized that he would not want the City Council to fund a new pool at the risk of losing money for other future school improvements.
Final action by the council on the School Board's proposed improvement plan is scheduled for no later than January.