Berkeley’s Warm Pool at the Old Gym on the Berkeley High campus filled with swimmers Wednesday night for probably the last time ever, as scores of pool loyalists gathered for a mock funeral. The Old Gym is being shuttered and is slated to be demolished in 2012. Above is a video shot last night, which includes some images taken of the pool in use on other days. It is by L.A. Wood. Robert Collier, Co-Chair of the Berkeley Pools Campaign, filed the report below:

After nearly three decades of being a lifeline for many disabled and elderly residents, the decrepit yet much-loved facility at Berkeley High School is closing forever.

Wednesday’s ceremony was a very Berkeley event: Rabbi Sara Shendelman played Tibetan bells and read prayers from several different world spiritual traditions. A symbolic coffin was carried alongside the pool, as participants held candles and mourned the loss of the Warm Pool as clouds of steam rose from the water.

Berkeley’s Warm Pool has been the center of an emotional debate for the past decade. Supporters say the 92-degree pool, the only municipal pool of its kind in the Bay Area, provides the only available and affordable form of exercise and therapy for many who are disabled and who cannot generate enough body heat for cooler pools.

After a regularly scheduled Berkeley City College class for the handicapped today, the pool will be mothballed for several months, with demolition scheduled for June.

The school district wants to occupy the Warm Pool space for much-needed expansion of athletic and classroom facilities on the overcrowded BHS campus. But the question – as it has been for more than a decade – is whether the City will build a replacement Warm Pool elsewhere.

A pools bond measure in the low-turnout June 2010 election, Measure C, received 62.2%, just shy of the two-thirds required. Pools supporters are asking the City Council for another chance in the much higher-turnout 2012 presidential election.

City staff have said the pools at the nearby Berkeley YMCA are an acceptable alternative, although the City’s Commission on Disability has said they are not suitable for many.

Hanging over the Warm Pool debate is a wild card — a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, in which Warm Pool swimmer Terry Cochrell is seeking an injunction to keep the pool open and operating until a replacement pool is provided. A ruling is expected later today.

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