A decision is near on whether to demolish the earthquake-damaged swim stadium next to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where the 1932 Olympic swimming events were held, according to officials acquainted with the matter.
The city's largest swim facility for youths was shut down all summer, not because of serious damage to the pool itself but because the stadium, which includes shower and dressing areas, was ruled unsafe after the Jan. 17 earthquake.
It appears most likely that the stadium will be torn down and a replacement pool and recreation facility will be constructed somewhere else in Exposition Park.
Relocating the facility could clear the way for building a large parking structure close to both the Coliseum and the Sports Arena, thus easing negotiations with the Raiders on a long-term playing contract. In some quarters, in fact, pleasing the Raiders is said to be a major reason for officials' desire to relocate the swim facility.
But many details remain to be decided. Officials cannot say definitely when a new swim facility will be constructed or where it will be in Exposition Park. Those issues will be a subject of protracted hearings and negotiations, said Steven L. Soboroff, president of the city's Recreation and Parks Commission.
"My job is to allow a process to happen, and that includes input from the community, City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Yvonne Burke, to get the maximum bang for the buck," Soboroff said in an interview.
He said that $7 million in funding is available from a 1992 bond issue, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to come up with additional money from earthquake repair funds. "We have a chance for a $7-(million) to $12-million new facility," he declared.
Behind the scenes, however, considerable controversy surrounds these plans.
The Amateur Athletic Foundation, the group charged with dispensing the Southern California youth share of the 1984 Olympic surplus, has been resisting demolition of the swim stadium in principle and certainly without definite commitment--and a completion date--for building a new 50-meter pool.
"We favor retention of the present 50-meter pool," Patrick Escobar, a foundation vice president, said last week. "This is the only 50-meter pool in the inner city that works well and serves the children. And we want to know how long, how many summers, are the kids going to be without a pool?"
The 50-meter swimming pool--which the foundation favors for use in athletic competitions--has traditionally been the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department's biggest summer aquatics draw for kids.
Built for the 1932 Olympics, it was renovated in the 1960s; shortly before the earthquake, major improvements were made in its water circulation system. (A separate pool was built on the USC campus for the 1984 Olympics).
Escobar questioned why, since the pool was not seriously damaged by the earthquake, it would not suffice to build new dressing and shower facilities around it.
He said, however, that he had heard that a major motive for relocating the swim facility is to smooth negotiations with the Los Angeles Raiders football franchise for a long-term Coliseum playing contract.
The Raiders and the Los Angeles Clippers basketball franchise at the nearby Sports Arena both would like to see a parking structure built at the present site of the swim stadium and the swim facility put in a less strategic part of the park.
Sheldon Sloan, a member of the Coliseum Commission and chairman of a master plan committee for Exposition Park, has said this would be a sound plan. But he has cautioned that some hard negotiating may lie ahead as to where the new swim facility would go.
Sloan noted that the parks department has a long-term lease with the Museum of Science and Industry, a state agency, on the present site. In order to get a new site, the agencies would have to agree to a land swap,, he said.
Told that a parks department staff member had suggested that the replacement site be at the northeast corner of Vermont Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard, quite close to the present stadium, Sloan said: "Over my dead body will the stadium be built (there). Farther north along Vermont would be a better place."
In the first months following the quake, it appeared that the damage to the swim stadium was not sufficient to secure FEMA funds to replace rather than repair it.
FEMA, according to agency spokesman Russ Edmiston, has a rule that repair costs must exceed 50% of the estimated cost of replacement before an applicant for federal disaster repair funds can elect to replace a damaged facility.
"If, for instance, the replacement costs $2 million and the repair costs $2.5 million, then we would pay the lesser of the two costs," Edmiston said.
But Soboroff said that when the parks department asked a private Orange County firm, Architects Pacifica, to estimate the damage, repair costs were judged to be only 48% of the replacement cost.