Neighbors lament Lab School’s plan to close swimming pool

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The school hopes to replace its swimming pool with a theater. (Brian Kapur/The Current)

The Lab School of Washington’s recent proposal to replace its campus pool with a theater has drawn criticism from community members.

As part of the school’s mission to incorporate hands-on and creative education for students with learning differences, Lab School’s leaders are proposing a larger new theater space to enhance performing arts programming. The theater would replace the existing 25-yard, six-lane indoor pool on the main campus at 4759 Reservoir Road NW.

Lab School principal Katherine Schantz, who has proposed the idea along with the school’s board of trustees, said performing arts can involve the students in a range of different ways. “There are students who are learning to memorize lines, students who are involved in 3-D design, students learning about the technology of lights and soundboard and students learning how to manage a whole group of people and work collaboratively,” she said. “It is a multisensory experience.”

Though a theater already exists on campus, the space does not allow for expanding and enhancing the performing arts, Schantz said. The new theater would accommodate a larger audience and would be equipped with modern soundboard and lighting infrastructure, she added.

Following a presentation on the proposal at a March 21 meeting at the school, many community members voiced opposition.

In addition to use by the school’s swim team, the pool facilities are available during non-school hours to community members with a pool membership and to two local swim teams, the Dolphins and Sea Devils, which use the pool for practice and training. With limited pools in the neighborhood, many have expressed concern about the loss of access.

Tom Hutton, a board member of the Sea Devils Swim team and a Lab School parent, started a petition asking the school to reconsider the proposal to close the pool. “As swim programs grow and pool time is limited throughout the Washington DC metro area, SDS must work together to keep open such an important facility in our neighborhood,” he wrote in the petition, which had 607 signatures as of Tuesday afternoon.

Lab claims that the pool facilities are underutilized, causing the school to lose money; however, some resident say their membership passes often go unchecked.

“There is no one checking our membership cards or passes. I write down my membership number every day, but no one charges me,” said one resident who swims there. She said the pool “is not just a gem” but also a resource unavailable anywhere else nearby.

Bill Tennis, chair of Lab School’s board of trustees, said the group will be meeting with architects in the coming days to discuss a timeline for the project and to re-evaluate the proposal.

“We are going to ask our architects to go back and explore some of the ideas about whether we can achieve our purposes or come close to achieving our purposes by an alternative on the campus,” Tennis said. “We are trying to pull a lot of different considerations to make a decision that is best for the school, our students and the community.”