In a move that they hope will expand access for aspiring swimmers at Rinconada Pool without degrading the experience, Palo Alto council members unanimously agreed Monday night to outsource the learn-to-swim program at the pool to Team Sheeper, the company that serves a similar function in Menlo Park.
The contract between the city and Team Sheeper will roughly double the number of classes that will be offered at Rinconada, increase the fees for swimming at Rinconada and shift the responsibility for running the classes from the city to the company.
For most users, this transitions shouldn't be too jarring. Because of staffing shortages, the city has been contracting out the swimming lessons to Team Sheeper on an emergency basis for the past two years. Now, however, Team Sheeper will be charged with running more classes than the city had offered in the past -- though far fewer than the company has offered to provide.
The outsourcing plan has caused ripples of discontent among long-time Rinconada swimmers, who argued that revisions to the pool schedule would lead to crowded lanes and a diminished experience. Team Sheeper, according to staff, has the capacity to offer six times as many lessons as the city has provided by offering more classes outside the usual summer season, making better use of the second pool and requiring more lane sharing.
The new deal, however, calls for a more modest increase in services. Rob de Geus, director of the Community Services Department, said that staff has held several meetings with concerned swimmers in recent weeks to come up with a schedule that works for all. As a result, the number of classes will roughly double but will not be increased six-fold.
"Staff are working with all pool users and will continue to do so to balance resident interests and pool use so that no one group is dramatically impacted as we work to improve access and participation," de Geus told the Weekly.
The negotiations between staff and swimmers appear to have borne fruit. While dozens of swimmers attended a November meeting of the Parks and Recreation Commission to oppose the outsourcing proposal, only a handful attended the Monday council meeting. Those they did, urged the council to move ahead with the new plan.
Barbara Rieder, a swimmer who was one of many to oppose the initial plan, told the council Monday that she and others had since met with staff and are confident that the new solution will make sense.
"We had a very successful dialogue about that schedule and our interest, as committed stakeholders, is to continue working with Community Services Department in terms of the expanded and balanced use for all swimming groups," Rieder told the council.
Resident Timothy Wong, who swims at both Burgess and Rinconada, lauded Team Sheeper's work in Menlo Park and predicted that Rinconada will be in good shape under the new arrangement. Jim Migdal, who also swims at the Palo Alto pool, agreed.
"I'm really excited about the potential for expanding the access and use at Rinconada Pool," Migdal said. "I think it's a great resource and I think having additional programs for kids who want to learn how to swim is fantastic."
The new contract will raise rates for group lessons residents from $11 to $16. For private lessons, the cost would go from $24 to $35. For nonresidents, the price would go up from $12 to $22 for group lessons and from $26 to $63 for private lessons.
The council had no objections to the plan and voted unanimously to approve the $143,000 contract.