Plans to construct the long anticipated Paso Aquatic Center are uncertain after bids for the project came back double what the Paso Robles Joint Unified School District budgeted for the facility.
“It was about $4.5 million over what had been budgeted,” said Julian Crocker, the district’s interim superintendent.
Crocker said the bids came in at over $10 million, which was a major disappointment for him, the board and countless members of the community that have chipped in for fundraising efforts.
The District won $5.7 million for the Aquatic Center when it passed Measure M, to provide $95 million in funding for the middle and elementary schools.
District Trustee Chris Bausch said the swimming facility was thrown in as an incentive to get support from the community, a sort of sweetheart deal that won votes from aquatic supporters in exchange for a sorely needed bond.
Bausch said the District has been drowning in debt, over-spending about $1 to $1.5 million each year.
The District has routinely overestimated its attendance, Bausch said, which is a main revenue generator. He said the problem is further exacerbated by the District’s underestimation of expenses.
“When we keep making that same mistake year after year for four years, it adds up,” Bausch said.
Many residents have supported the effort to construct an aquatic center, giving students a top-notch space to practice.
“A football team needs a good football team or field to play in,” Crocker said. “An aquatic program needs a good swim complex.”
Voter and resident Phyllis Burges agreed that the students need financial support.
“They need water aerobics and stuff like that,” Burges said. “I’m all for it.”
But Burges also conceded that there’s a line that must be drawn when it comes to the burgeoning dollar figure associated with support.
“I’m a senior citizen, I don’t know how much more I can afford,” Burges said.
Bausch said the budget does not include the additional $400,000 per year required to maintain the facility.
“We over promised and under delivered,” Bausch said.
The $1 million worth of equipment already purchased by the District remains in storage until a new superintendent inherits the issue.
“Certainly this is a disappointment to all of us,” Crocker said.
Bausch said the seller won’t take the equipment back but has offered to help resell the materials for 20 to 25 percent less.
Though the issue raises many concerns for board members and the community, many people, like Bausch and Crocker, believe the pool is still worth fighting for.
“All of our efforts are really devoted right now to how can the aquatics complex come to completion,” Crocker said.
The District anticipates hiring a new superintendent in the next 90 days. That’s when the Aquatic Center’s future will be revisited.