Sonoma pool supporters reach goal for property purchase

The group pushing to build a public pool in Sonoma Valley has raised enough money to purchase the El Verano property that is planned as the future home of the multimillion dollar aquatic complex.

Just three months ago, the Sonoma Valley Health and Recreation Association, the group pushing for a community pool, turned to the Sonoma City Council for help to keep the dream afloat. It had requested a $500,000 loan after it fell short of the $1.7 million it needed to purchase the former Paul’s Resort, which in its heyday was a popular dance hall, eatery and holiday destination.

It plans to close on the 29-acre property by the end of the month, said Mayor Tom Rouse, who also sits on the association’s board.

Although it no longer needs the loan to purchase the property, the group requested on Monday that the city reach into its pockets and fund a scholarship program, which council members unanimously approved.

“(It) is still very committed to seeking the council support for the project and we think this is an excellent way to go about it,” said Michael Woods, an attorney representing the association, also known as Sonoma Splash.

Council members Steve Barbose, David Cook and Laurie Gallian approved a plan to set aside $250,000 to cover scholarships for a decade once the aquatic center is built. The programs could include free and reduced swimming lessons for children and adults and other special programs such as water aerobics classes for seniors.

Rouse and Councilman Ken Brown recused themselves from the vote because they sit on the association’s board.

The money will come out of a special projects reserve and go into a new trust fund, according to the city. Officials said up to $25,000 a year will be available to cover the scholarship-funded programs.

“We want to see it as a broad range of programs,” City Manager Carol Giovanatto said.

Council members also agreed the scholarships would be open to residents in both the city and Sonoma Valley.

“The folks who live in the Valley spend a tremendous amount of money in the city. All the grocery stores are here. They are paying sales tax in the city,” Barbose said. “They are helping pay for the services that are given to their children, so I don’t see a problem with that.”

The discussion went much faster than in previous meetings.

In August, council members held a special meeting where they were discussing possible terms of a loan contract. After two hours wrestling with questions such as how the group could pay back the money, no decision was made.

Gallian was happy with the final outcome. In addition to potentially saving lives by teaching people to swim, she said the aquatic center could provide jobs for young swimmers in the area.

“I have confidence that this partnership will only blossom,” she said.

Paul Favaro, the association’s board president, expected construction of the aquatic center to start within a year of the land purchase. The center will include two full-size pools, a gym and multipurpose rooms and is expected to cost $10 million to $12 million to build, he said.

You can reach Staff Writer ?Eloísa Ruano González at 521-5458 or

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