By TEDDYE SNELL
The swimming pool at the Northeastern State University Fitness Center has been closed for renovation since Sept. 17, and according to university officials, there are no plans to reopen the facility anytime soon.
According to Todd Enlow, who in September was named NSU director of Auxiliary Services, the university has had a plan in place since last spring to renovate the aging facility. But a complaint filed with the Cherokee County Health Department by a local swimmer prompted closure of the pool sooner than predicted.
Enlow indicated pool patrons have been denied access throughout early planning stages between the university and GH2 Architects.
The move affected NSU students, Continuing Education water aerobics participants, the Tahlequah Boys & Girls Club USA Swimming Team Stingrays, community members who use the pool for health purposes, and those who swim for recreation.
Stingrays Coach Bob Bradshaw made arrangements through the Fort Gibson School District to use the facility there for a brief period, but is now searching for new options.
“We’ve used all our time allotted at Fort Gibson,” said Bradshaw. “Now, their swim teams need the space. We’ve contacted [a facility] in Muskogee that will give us one hour a week, on Saturdays, at $50 per hour. We’re also planning on talking to a couple of local hotel owners that have pools to see if we can use their pools for stroke and turn work.”
The Stingrays have a swim meet this weekend, as well as a meet in Bartlesville later this month. Bradshaw said he’s doing his level best to keep his team in shape.
“We go to the NSU Fitness Center for weight work and use their track for stamina,” said Bradshaw. “We’re just doing whatever we can to keep the team in shape.”
Bradshaw said that while Maryetta School has an indoor pool, cost and water temperature preclude it from being an option for the Stingrays.
“It’s expensive, and they keep the water temperature anywhere from 92-98 degrees; the water is way too hot. Our kids run out of breath and it makes them sick. We’re just going to go with what we can go with, and hopefully, the pool will open again soon.”
About a week before the pool closed in September, NSU officials had said the replacement of the pool deck would require closure of the pool for four to eight weeks, and that they hoped to reopen it for a time before it was shuttered again for an overhaul of the entire Fitness Center.
Both Bradshaw and Enlow indicated some proposals for the pool include a zero-entry ramp, as opposed to steps, to aid people with disabilities. NSU is also considering making a separate outside entry for the pool, so that when the other side of the facility undergoes renovation, the pool can remain open.
What isn’t clear is when the pool will be functional again.
“The challenge is – well, ideally, we would have liked to have had the pool open longer during the programming phase of the renovation,” said Enlow. “We haven’t had a good opportunity to get feedback to meet the needs of our customers – including students, water aerobics students, those who use it for general exercise, lap swimmers and the swim team.”
Enlow said that to date, the compromised pool deck has been torn out, new metal decking has been poured, and the drains are in place.
“We’re waiting on the rebar to pour the actual deck, then we’ll have to tear out the carpet and get the rest prepped,” said Enlow. “Other things we have to do include painting the entire surface and the estimate for that is $15,000 to $20,000.”
Enlow said he doesn’t have a good answer for a projected opening date.
“We are looking at all the alternatives to get it open sooner rather than later, and we’re also looking at opening it separately [from the other part of the Fitness Center],” he said.
When news of the pool closure first came to light, Enlow said the university entertained the idea of providing shuttle service to its displaced swimmers to the facility in either Fort Gibson or Muskogee.
“We looked at that as an option, but didn’t explore it much more,” said Enlow. “When we talked, we were looking at Fort Gibson, Muskogee and Maryetta as alternatives. Most of the people we had talked to [had made alternative arrangements already]. The swim team had Fort Gibson, and water aerobics has found an alternative. The other [patrons] didn’t really bite when we were talking about shuttle service.”
In recent weeks, three lap swimmers and another pool patron told the Press they had called various NSU offices to inquire about progress on the pool and the possibility of a shuttle service. They said their calls weren’t returned.
Enlow said he has talked to one of the local hotel owners about renting a pool for a per-head charge.
“He was agreeable to it, but the pricing he offered was higher than what we felt we could pass along,” said Enlow. “We have provided that information to the Continuing Education Department for their water aerobics participants, but we don’t know that the pool would be suitable for lap swimmers.”
Enlow said renovations are running slightly behind schedule, mostly due to material supply and demand.
“We hoped we’d be able to pour concrete last week, but we’re having to wait on the rebar,” said Enlow. “Also, the hurricane, with all of its devastation, could potentially slow down and impact some of our construction work.”