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Media Coverage
Last Splash For Plunge?
September 5, 1997




Friday, September 5, 1997
Section: news
Page: A03
Rob Shea
Caption: PHOTO. Wood beams are used as temporay supports to hold up aging walls inside the Richmond Plunge, which city officials say is unsafe after 71 years of use. (HERMAN BUSTAMANTE Jr./Times). 

RICHMOND City officials in charge of building safety want to close the Richmond Plunge at the end of the month, saying the 71-year-old facility is falling apart. 

Popular as a familiar landmark on the outside and an unsightly, crumbling shell on the inside, the Plunge has been the object of controversy for several years. Rickety even before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, it has had numerous temporary facelifts to keep it in one piece. It also was a point of contention among City Council members while they discussed which public safety projects to include in Measure H, a bond measure on this November's ballot. 

It appears, however, that the decision to close it is virtually irreversible. 

"Staff recommendation is that the Plunge be officially closed Tuesday, Sept. 30 because of structural deficiencies," Leveron Bryant, chief of staff to the city manager, said Thursday. 

The last straw came in mid-August, when a 3-foot by 4-foot plaster medallion tumbled from a wall. That led to a city inspection, which found corroding steel members, deteriorated wood frame members, cracks in concrete and structural weaknesses unlikely to withstand an earthquake. 

Even City Council members, who support a long-term renovation plan, lauded the decision to close the pool for now. 

"My feeling is it needs to be completely rebuilt," said Councilwoman Irma Anderson. "I think it's valuable to the city of Richmond as well as to surrounding cities. It's a beautiful place but it needs to be completely redone." 

Councilwoman Donna Powers said on a recent tour of the Point Richmond pool that she saw bricks falling out from walls and paint, possibly with poisonous lead, fallen from high beams to the pool deck. 

"I'm kind of surprised they didn't close it down a long time ago," said Councilman Tom Butt, whose business, Interactive Resources, has done work to temporarily shore up the building. 

The timing of the closure is curious. 

By the time voters decide whether to approve Measure H, which would allow bond sales for $23 million in public building construction and renovations, the Plunge will have been closed for about two months. With the pool closed, melancholy swimmers and building preservationists who would fear the building will come down might be more likely to support Measure H. 

But council members didn't question the sequence of events. 

"The timing is merely a coincidence," Bryant said. "There is no other hidden agenda. One need look no further than that. We've known for years the Plunge is in need of major, major renovations." 

Councilman Nat Bates, who opposed putting Measure H on the ballot, said the timing of the closure could be a politically motivated maneuver to get support for the measure. 

"It does seem to be a little suspicious," Bates said. "Some of the problems that exist there have been known for some time." 

The council will discuss the future of the Plunge at its 7 p.m. Wednesday meeting. 

The pool, which opened in 1926, has been threatened with extinction before. Numerous closures included a five-month stretch for repairs in 1995 and about a year in 1990. In 1976, swimmers rallied to save it from closing forever. 

As cheap as $1 for two hours of swimming, the rates charged at the Plunge have always been lower than at other municipal pools. It also offers water therapy for the elderly, kayaking practice and other classes.