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Aquatics center: MUSD & city need to partner
Dennis Wyatt

Can we be honest with ourselves?

This community — like any other community — has a lot of wants and needs.

Manteca Unified has roughly $1 billion worth of modernization work and maintenance needs. Over the next 30 years the district could easily see an uptick of 10,000 students. That is almost half of the existing student population. To replicate half of the district’s five high schools alone is over $350 million. Figure we’ll need 12 elementary schools at $35 million a pop and that’s another $420 million. Growth fees and Mello-Roos taxes will cover a portion of the bill but not all.

Then there is the City of Manteca. It has a backlog in excess of $60 million for road maintenance. As for future road needs, identified interchange work alone is in excess of $120 million. Again growth will pay for some, but not all of the tab. Then there are other little incidentals such as we’ll eventually need a new police station, a couple more fire stations, another library or a significant upgrade, and sooner or later city hall needs to be addressed. Add another $80 million plus to the tab.

Keep in mind this does not address day to day operations or sewer, water, and solid waste.

Then there is the reason for this column —recreational facility needs. The list of needs/wants is well over $100 million but $42 million worth of projects have been identified as a high priority.

I don’t know about you but even if the above mentioned costs were spread out in 30 year bonds — which if we are being honest is where the bulk of the money will come from although we indulge in fantasies we’re going to get money from a higher level of government or some private sector grant to pick up the tab — I doubt many of us can afford to support everything.

It is why our elected leaders on both the City Council and school board need to make it clear to staff at every turn that joint venture projects to whittle down the list to allow as much to get accomplished as possible without creating duplicate facilities and double the long-term maintenance bill is the absolute top priority.

It is the direction that must be given now before we blow as much as six figures on consultants to devise detailed plans on the $42 million recreational needs list that includes an aquatics center or swimming pool, community gym, and more playing fields.

The most obvious joint project is an aquatics center or swimming pool.

And the most obvious place for it is at Manteca High where the varsity baseball field now sits. The existing Manteca High pool is being removed to make way for a new gym seating 2,200. The baseball field could easily be located on the adjoining Lincoln Elementary School site and configured in a manner that it can be used for elementary PE programs. 

Land does not have to be purchased. A massive parking lot will already be in place. The campus will still be central to the city’s population 30 years from now. It is across the street from the Tidewater Bikeway that is the backbone of roughly a 20-mile separated bike path system that will loop Manteca with spurs connecting neighborhoods making it a safe way for youngsters to travel on bicycles. It is two blocks from the transit center that will remain the hub of the city’s bus system as Manteca grows.

Given Manteca High will have two gyms with significant seating there is the added bonus the city can have more access to a gym during peak use seasons. Who knows, if might be enough to meet community gym needs that perhaps the city will pursue another needed facility  instead whether it is a community center, library, or a new senior center allowing the existing facility to be repurposed as a teen center (an identified need, by the way).

The city could also work out a programming use of the Manteca High performing arts facility to serve as a community performing arts center until such time one can be built.

And just so everyone doesn’t forget, the biggest generator of traffic in terms of people actually going to and from a destination in downtown is Manteca High. Develop joint uses right and the high school campus becomes an effective de facto community center in the middle of Manteca.

If a partnership is done right out of the gate and not the marriage of convenience that got state funding for community use multipurpose rooms at several elementary schools it will work effectively for everyone. And to clear up misconceptions anyone may have, the city’s match for the state grants making the multiple purpose gyms possible was the school district’s share of redevelopment agency proceeds. The city technically didn’t have a dime in any of the projects although they got between 15 and 20 hours a week of programming benefit.

There is no reason a joint swimming pool venture won’t work. There is no overlap whatsoever in city use or school use. And if the community eventually had a high caliber year round swim team formed, they could rent the pool in the evenings or early morning during the school year. It worked well for the Capital City Aquatics at Oakmont High in Roseville. It didn’t seem to hurt the development of Olympian swimmer Summer Sanders.

The bottom line to keep in mind: There are only so many times you can expect taxpayers to pony up nor is Manteca exactly flush with money.