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Future of North High’s Pool in Question but Former ‘Otter’ is Trying to Save It

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Des Moines Public School administrators say they are spending far too much money on the pool at North High School; to the point they are considering shutting it down.

DMPS says it costs $200,000 a year to maintain the pool and it isn't getting the use it needs to warrant them keeping it open. However, closing it would mean the historic Otters Swim Club would need to find a new pool.

Liz Weinheimer swam with Otters from age 7 to 18, and also had a place on the North High School swim team where she says she learned lessons she wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.

“Hard work, having to get up for practice at 6 a.m. before school, then going to school, then having a 2-3 hour practice after,” said Weinheimer.

She fears if the pool were to close others wouldn't learn those same lessons. Weinheimer is a single mother of one, and says the Otters program is the most affordable around.

If the pool were to go away the club would be forced to find a new home, which she worries will be more expensive.

“This community is minorities, it’s low income level, it’s single parents, single moms, single dads, children who have to raise their brothers and sisters who may not have that experience, or maybe they’re like 'I want to play basketball but I want to do swimming' but they can only afford one,” said Weinheimer.

Weinheimer has started an online petition to save the pool which has gotten 1,500 signatures. She says the program makes it a point to take everyone who wants to join.

“The North Side Otters, there are no tryouts, it gives everybody the opportunity to learn how to swim at a cheap rate,” she said.

However, the $200,000 a year operating cost of the pool is causing stress on the school district. Paid from the general fund. it's taking up money which could be used for staff salaries.

“K-12 education isn't really funded at a level that we can sustain any longer,” said Chief Operations Officer Bill Good.

DMPS says usage doesn't match up to those costs. There were only three students on the girls swim team last year, the boys compete with Hoover High School, and only 31 students took P.E. swim class.

“The big idea is to be able to use that space for more kids, and create more opportunities for our North High family,” said Good.

DMPS is tossing around the idea of turning it into an auxiliary gym with room for dance, ROTC, and indoor practice for several sports.