Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

December 21, 2012

NSU pool still not ready; swim team doing ‘surprisingly well’

TAHLEQUAH — Patrons of the indoor swimming pool at Northeastern State University’s Fitness Center have been fish out of water since mid-September, but university officials  say progress on renovations is being made.

NSU 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 a Sept. 17 closure of the pool.

In a November Daily Press update, Todd Enlow, NSU director of capital projects and planning said that since September, the pool deck had been torn out, new metal decking had been installed, and crews were awaiting a shipment of rebar before pouring the concrete for the actual deck. He also indicated NSU had no firm date for re-opening the facility.

Plans for a zero-entry ramp into the pool have also been part of the discussion between the administration and GH2 Architects, along with the possibility of adding an outside entrance from the parking lot to the pool, to allow access to patrons while the other side of the Fitness Center is being renovated.

“Final decisions for a zero-entry ramp and an outside pool entrance have not been made,” NSU Vice President for Operations Tim Foutch said this week. “We are continuing to work with the project architect on these issues, and anticipate additional information to consider in early January.”

Foutch said that since November, the pool deck replacement has been completed.

“All metal decking is installed, and the concrete deck is in place,” said Foutch. “The drains are currently being installed. Carpet removal and additional work in the pool area and locker rooms are part of the architect assessment, anticipated in early January.”

Since the facility’s closing, NSU students, Continuing Education water aerobics participants, the Tahlequah Boys & Girls Club USA Swimming Team Stingrays, and other community members have had to find alternative sites for swimming, or cease swimming altogether. Many area residents had been using the pool for therapy for various syndromes, like arthritis and congestive heart failure, and several triathletes called it their base of operations.

Stingrays Coach Bob Bradshaw said the B&GC team has seen a 60 percent reduction in participation since September.

“We’re holding on; we’ve got 22 swimmers hanging in there, and we had about 60 [back in September],” said Bradshaw. “I’m sure we’ll get them back once the NSU pool re-opens, but a lot of them can’t travel. I figured even if we lost 60 percent of our team, we can stay together, and that’s where we’re at right now.”

Bradshaw indicated the Stingrays is the only Tahlequah B&GC athletic group that’s financially stable, and said he’s positive the team will expand once adequate local facilities are available.

According to Foutch, a more definitive timeline for re-opening the facility is expected in early January.

“The architect report anticipated in early January will  provide the needed specifics about whether a pool re-opening date prior to the beginning of the renovation phase is feasible or not,” said Foutch.

The remaining team members have been practicing at Maryetta School in Stilwell twice a week, as well as at the Muskogee Swim and Fitness on Saturday mornings for an hour. In an earlier report, Bradshaw indicated the pool at Maryetta is less than optimum for competitive practice, as the water temperature is too warm. But he quickly realized it would be necessary to use the facility to keep the team together.

“We’ve used Maryetta before, and they work with us on the cost,” said Bradshaw. “Muskogee charges us $50 per hour, and they only have one hour a week available. We’ve been going there, but now that we can use Maryetta, we’ll stop going to Muskogee.”

A new outdoor swimming pool is one project included in a proposed $21 million sales tax package local voters will consider Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. If approved, the pool will be built west of town as part of the Anthis-Brennan Sports Facilities near the Tahlequah Industrial Park. Mayor Jason Nichols has indicated the pool would have lanes available for lap swimming.

Bradshaw said he was unaware of the city’s plan to build a new outdoor pool, but has some ideas how to make it a profitable venture. Bradshaw said he worked with U.S. Olympic swimmer Mark Spitz several years ago on a proposed indoor pool for Tahlequah, but was turned down by the Tahlequah Parks and Recreation Board.

However, outdoor pools in Oklahoma, even if heated, can’t remain open more than five months per year, at most. Such a facility would only serve a recreational purpuse, and would do little good for the Stingrays, triathletes, water aerobics classes, or therapeutic swimmers. Some residents have also pointed out Tahlequah already has an outdoor pool, at Sequoyah City Park.

Bradshaw has a different idea.

“If they’re going to build a new pool, then why not put a bubble over it?” asked Bradshaw. “That’s what Spitz was talking about, and would be similar to what they have as a practice facility at NSU. That way, the pool would be available year-round, and would pay for itself in no time. We’ve done studies, when we went to the committee years ago, to determine costs, and what brought in the most income – without fail – was an indoor swimming pool, because it’s available all year.”

Despite the setbacks, Bradshaw said the team is performing surprising well.

“We just went to a meet in Bartlesville - the Stars of Winter – and did really well, considering,” said Bradshaw. “We had one girl, Sydney Taylor, who won the 100 backstroke in the 11- and 12-year-old category, and got second in the 50-free and first in the 100-back. Her older sister, Kherissa, got second in the 100 back and placed in the 500 free.”

Bradshaw said he also has younger teammates, 9- and 10-year-olds, who performed well.

“We also had some little kids who surprised me, including Rocky Hensley, who placed in two events, and Carolina Smith, who placed in four events,” said Bradshaw. “Everybody lowered their times, and this was a big-time meet. I thought we’d just go to make a showing, and the kids really surprised me. They refuse to give up.”

The Stingrays will compete in Tulsa on Jan. 11, and plan to attend a meet in Joplin, Mo., on Jan. 24.

“We’re moving on,” said Bradshaw. “We’re not going to fold up.”

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