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Swim club unique among those who use Penn Hills School District facilities

Patrick Varine
| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Penn Hills Dolphins swim club is posing a challenge for the Penn Hills School District as it considers imposing a fee schedule for use of district facilities.

The school board's policy committee is updating fees for using facilities such as the auditorium, gymnasium and the Linton Middle School pool.

Discussion of the policy at the past two committee meetings centered around the Dolphins, its usage of the pool and its tax status.

Although the club operates as a nonprofit, according to president Karen McClelland, its officers have not registered with the federal government as one, said the district's human resources director Lindsay Pfister.

That means the club could be subject to a proposed $700-per-day fee to use the Linton pool.

In deciding how to impose fees, the district categorized groups that use or rent facilities as nonprofit or profit-making, planning to waive fees on nonprofits and municipal groups.

Dolphins President Karen McClelland said the Dolphins cannot afford to pay $700 per day.

“We're a small club. Most clubs have 100 to 200 swimmers,” she said.

Chris Polaski, whose daughter is a Dolphins swimmer, agreed.

“If you charge that, they're going to fold up and go away,” she said.

The committee also proposed waiving the fee for district- and municipal-sponsored youth activities and “feeder programs” that work with athletes who eventually will move into district-run athletic programs.

Dolphin swimmers often join the varsity swim team, but policy committee Heather Hoolahan had concerns.

“It's not just Penn Hills kids who are on the Dolphins team. There are kids from Plum and other areas who will not be joining the district swim team, but they're using our facilities on a regular basis,” Hoolahan said.

Three of the club's 45 swimmers do not live in Penn Hills, McClelland said.

Committee Chairwoman Jennifer Burgess-Johnson said she wanted to see clearly defined parameters for the fees.

“There has to be a line in the sand where you pay, or you don't pay,” she said.

Hoolahan emphasized that she wasn't looking to price the Dolphins out of the pool, but rather to find some middle ground because of the nature of the club's facility use.

“This is the only one on (our) list that is a continuous use. They're using our facilities every day,” she said.

In the Gateway School District, the Monroeville Marlins Swim Club uses Gateway's pool for its practices and meets.

Gateway Communications Director Cara Zanella said the club practices for free at district facilities because it is a registered nonprofit and a feeder program for Gateway swimming.

Zanella said the club pays an hourly rate for Gateway supervisors or site managers who must be at the pool during activities, as required by district policy. Gateway officials are also updating facility fees, she said.

The Dolphins do pay fees to Penn Hills when they host a meet.

McClelland said the usage fee, utility fee and janitorial services fee add up to about $1,000 per day for the one- or two-day meets held at Linton Middle School.

Burgess-Johnson said policy clarity is needed because of future requests.

“What's going to happen down the line, now that we have a turf (football) field that's top-notch, now that we're resurfacing the track?” she asked.

The committee agreed to place the policy on the school board's March voting meeting agenda with a note that an exception will be made for groups using district facilities on a daily basis.

The meeting will take place at 7:30 p.m. March 11 at the high school, 309 Collins Drive.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or

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