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Southwest High School Principal Matt Phillips adds his sticky note to one of the boards asking for public input on the future Southwest High School aquatic center Thursday night, Sept. 23, in the school’s library. | KATHERINE RAMOS PHOTO

Pool Planning for El Centro’s Southwest High Begins

CUHSD Officials Hold First Brainstorming Session for Measure K-Funded Aquatic Center

EL CENTRO — A promise 25 years in the making inched closer to being fulfilled last week when Central Union High School District began its community overtures toward the development of Southwest High’s future aquatic center.

“We are delighted to get this process started,” district Superintendent Dr. Ward Andrus said. “As a swim dad myself, I have my own hopes and dreams personally for other moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas to see their kids swim in this pool.”

Central Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Ward Andrus (from left) and architect Jimmy Sanders take input and ideas listening to Southwest High physical education teacher Steven Escalera as he explains why the future aquatic center should be in a different location than what is being proposed during a brainstorming session at the Southwest library on Thursday, Sept. 23. | KATHERINE RAMOS PHOTO

An informational meeting and brainstorming session were held in the Southwest library on Thursday, Sept. 23, to begin forming a list of wants and needs in such a facility.

Funding for the aquatic center will come from the 2016 $30 million ballot initiative, Measure K, that was approved more than 70 percent of voters in the distrct.

So far, Measure K has been used to build the science, technology, engineering and math lab under construction at Central Union High School, a project started back in 2019, according to CUHSD Assistant Superintendent Arnold Preciado. The money has been used for other improvements as well.

Since Southwest High was first opened in 1996, the school has shared a pool with Central for swim practice and physical education. That meant 25 years of scheduling, making sure everything works out, and dealing with an aging pool. This has worked OK, Southwest High Principal Matt Phillips said, but now that the new center is in the works, it will be somewhere the Eagles can take pride in and call home.

The facility will be more than just a PE pool, Phillips said, but a competition space that gives the students another high-energy activity. Phillips added there is an idea to expand extracurricular activities into water polo, if possible.

“We are really proud when we host the CIF championships, and I think it will be a place where the teams can come together and meet,” Phillips said. “It is exciting to see this process begin; can’t wait!”

The plan is to build a CIF-regulation-sized pool for sports and PE classes. It will also be open for public use or for other swim teams. Phillips added that if Central’s pool is out of commission, the Spartans will have a place to train, too.

During the Sept. 23 meeting, some ideas thrown around included changes in location, requests to add good filtration systems, making sure it is 50 meters by 25 yards for competitions, that it include a cooling system, good raised benches in the stands, outdoor lockers and showers for the swimmers, and just having a good pool overall.

Any other design choices after will be implemented and explored by architect Jimmy Sanders using the input from the community and school staff.

The purple shaded area shows the proposed site for a new aquatic center on the campus of Southwest High School in El Centro. | GOOGLE MAP ILLUSTRATION

PE teachers Steven Escalera and Stephanie Niebla both shared concerns on the proposed location of the center, saying it was too close to the softball fields and could cause injury, plus there is worry that students could easily jump the fence trying to get into the pool.

Still, both teachers are on board with the plan. Niebla, who started teaching at Southwest 25 years ago, remembered being promised there would be a pool to utilize and is happy to see it finally happening. She is excited despite voicing her concerns on the proposed location.

“Everything is just exciting. I think it’s going to be a big educational plus for us,” Niebla added.

Swim coaches Nikie Lopez and Enrique Cervantes already see this as a major win for the team. “It’s about time,” both said.

Lopez, who has worked with swimmers for many years, is head coach for Southwest and Imperial Valley Desert Aquatics. She is more than happy to see her team, some even potential future Olympians, get a chance to swim in a new pool.

“They’re excited,” Lopez said her the youths she coaches. “It really neat that we have an opportunity to get an approval.”

Karen Saikhon, Southwest High Booster Club president, writes out her note with input for Central Union High School District officials on what she would like added to the proposed Southwest High School aquatic center during a brainstorming session on Thursday, Sept. 23. | KATHERINE RAMOS PHOTO

“This has been in the plan for about seven years, now we finally starting to talk about it, so it’s exciting but we’ll start to talk about things,” Cervantes said.

Jacinto “Jay” Jiménez, a former Central Union district trustee, said he has been waiting for the district to deliver on this promise for years. Jiménez was one of many who did the footwork to push the community to vote in favor of Measure K.

For Jiménez, just getting the conversation started is an accomplishment for the district toward something that will benefit the entire community.

“It will benefit both schools within our district,” he said. “It’s going to improve the competitive spirit and the swimming arena for both schools.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our swimmers and all our youth especially,” board Trustee Maria Peinado said.

Andrus said the district does not know how much the aquatic center will cost to build at the moment. The CUHSD board will have to decide on the budget once all of the information has been gathered.

“We know we can dream, but we’ll see what we can afford,” Andrus added.

Community members are welcome to continue submitting their ideas for the aquatic center through ThoughtExchange on the CUSD website. The links for the questions are:

Aquatic Center size.

Aquatic features.

Spectator area.

Support facilities and equipment facilities.

The links will be active until Sunday, Oct. 3, according to Andrus.