ORINDA -- A 57-year-old swimming pool receiving a re-do is not news.

But the demolition of the 57-year-old Sleepy Hollow Swim & Tennis club pool, located in a member-owned 54-acre private park in Orinda, is a story whose time has come.

Which is why 180 families are fully behind Andra Berkman and Catja McDonald, two of the 12-member SHSTC board of directors, who arrive at a Lamorinda coffee shop with blueprints in hand.

"For at least 20 years, people have known that this was coming," Berkman begins. "All our neighboring clubs were updating and we knew we'd be facing the same thing."

The pool, built in 1955, had rusted mechanics. Worse, it had a leak -- a big one.

"Finding that pit of water; 900 square feet of soft soil that had to get dug out and replaced -- that was the worst part," McDonald says. "Three weeks after renovation started, the engineer found it."

The good news was that the contingency plan included just such a finding and the budget was not impacted. In a $2 million project that took six years to come to fruition, the time setback was minor.

Understanding how an affluent, devoted member base could allow its recreational hub to deteriorate is more complex -- and could be masked with banal explanations, but McDonald is blunt.

"The dues have just covered active use. There's been apathy to spending the money. If you can kick the can down the road, you do," she says, voicing the statement as a universal tendency and not a targeted complaint.

Berkman, more upbeat but no less transparent, says, "It wasn't until a group of committed families with professional backgrounds -- architects, real estate brokers, marketing and business professionals -- became involved, that something happened. We had been limping along. The time had come."

Revamping is not unique to the area (Moraga Country Club, Orinda Country Club and Meadow Swim & Tennis Club all recently renovated), but Sleepy Hollow's origins include an unusual back story that projects into its future.

After World War II, development in the rolling hills of unincorporated Orinda was rampant. A group of residents, concerned their green space was at risk, incorporated as a nonprofit, sold shares to members and bought a 54-acre plot of land.

"It would never happen, but if we sold it, every member family would get a part of the money. They own it," Berkman explains.

Intentionally designated for recreational use only, members built the pool that today is a dusty memory and tomorrow (or, more precisely, May 2013), will be a 4,600-square-foot, eight-lane, rim-flow gutter system, competition pool. Nearby, a 1,630-square-foot, zero-entry activity pool for toddlers and ADA compliant locker rooms will complete the project.

Members asked for an open process and "a certain amount of rigor" from the volunteer task force, according to Berkman.

"Some people questioned it and suggested waiting until something catastrophic happens," she admits.

But in focus groups, member surveys, and in the professional reports showing remarkable facility deterioration, the message was clear: it was time to pay the piper.

Board member/owner Kim Purcell writes in an email that the entire process was available for members to follow on the club website, a big reason for the member approval. Multiple open houses were held to explain the budget, the Wells Fargo construction loan and the step-at-a-time process (the tennis courts will receive a new overlay system, in a carefully-timed second phase).

"In addition, we have a saying "Once a Legend, Always a Legend," because of our very loyal alumni," Purcell says.

Loyalty, cemented in ownership, packs a powerful punch. An online brick-buying, lane-naming auction culminated in a frenzied, end-of-swim-season bidding war in August, netting $73,000.

"We had a Sunday night dinner and everybody was on their phones, bidding against each other," Berkman laughs.

"I actually got knocked off, but it was OK, McDonald says, "because I knew it was a great family that it went to."

Two lanes are named after Matt Ehrenberger (head coach) and Kevin Honey (co-head coach). Families have paid $350 each for 230 inscribed bricks that will be installed in the renovated entry plaza.

Fifty-seven years after member families planted evergreen and tulip trees in their 54-acre "backyard," neighbors will gather around a newly built pool and usher in the next half-century in what a 1958 Sunset Magazine called "a portion of a peaceful valley, some woods, some wide open space."

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