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A Final Dip in the Pool

Facility: Mission Viejo reopens 30-year-old Sierra Recreation Center for last season of fun and games.

July 18, 2002|mckibben/willon/dunn / jw

The local outcry to save Mission Viejo's Sierra Recreation Center convinced the City Council to grant a summertime reprieve for the aging public pool, but that has failed to persuade many swimmers to take the plunge.

Despite the heat Wednesday, only a few residents bothered to cool off in the 25-meter, eight-lane pool. However, those who dropped by for a swim were happy the facility was still open, even with its cracks and rust-stained deck.

"Thank God it's reopened," said Judy Findley, who moved to Mission Viejo seven years ago from Torrance. "I've been coming here since the day we moved here.

"The city has really done some neat things for its residents with the mall, the lake and the new library and City Hall. Keeping this place open would be another nice thing they could do."

City officials said refurbishing the 30-year-old center would not be cost-effective, especially since Mission Viejo plans to spend $1 million next year to renovate and expand Montanoso Recreation Center, which is a mile from Sierra and offers swimming and workout facilities.

"It's an emotional issue," City Manager Dan Joseph said. "I don't think you'll ever appease those who have enjoyed having their summer swimming pool close to their home. But you can't have pools a mile from everybody's home. And at what expense and at whose expense do we do that?

"There's 100,000 people in this community. I'd venture to say a lot of those people would say, 'Those are my tax dollars too and there are a lot of other things we could use my tax dollars for.' "

The council voted 4-1 in May to close the Sierra center and upgrade Montanoso. In the last five years, the once-bustling Sierra sports center was open only during the summer. Last August, city officials said the pool averaged 22 swimmers a day. Joseph said it would cost the city $1 million to refurbish the pool, deck and the activities building

Recently, the city sent out a survey to residents asking what to do with Sierra. The respondents voted to fill in the pool and build a children's park.

Afterward, Sierra proponents organized the Save Our Sierra group to spare the pool.

Supporters spoke out at a July 1 council meeting, saying the sports center was one of the amenities that attracted them to Mission Viejo. In response, the council voted to keep Sierra open through Oct. 31, and instructed staff to meet with residents about possibly forming an association to purchase and operate the center.

Since the pool was reopened Monday after being closed for nine months, swimmers have begun to trickle in. On Monday and Tuesday, Sierra's staff reported daily attendance of 87 and 66. Wednesday at noon, the staff outnumbered the swimmers, 3 to 2.

Kevin McCalley, 29, who drove from San Clemente to swim a few laps, nearly had the pool all to himself. "This is one of the pools I learned to swim in," he said. "I love it here. I heard it was open again and I came up to support it."

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