By TEDDYE SNELL
Officials at Northeastern State University on Friday announced the pool at the university’s Fitness Center will remain closed until August 2014, when renovation of the entire facility is expected to be complete.
The news angered and disappointed Tahlequah Boys & Girls Club USA Swim Team Coach Bob Bradshaw, who feels NSU is neglecting the needs of the community.
“To be honest, I don’t think neither the city nor NSU understands the effect [this announcement has] on the team,” said Bradshaw. “This is a year-round program, and we have committed kids.”
After the pool closed in September, NSU officials indicated they might reopen it with a separate entrance while the rest of the facility was being renovated. But on Friday, university administrators confirmed that after lengthy deliberation with the Division of Operations and the project architect, they decided to keep the pool closed.
“The university is concerned about the uncertainty of the water quality, safety of patrons, additional costs and numerous issues involved with bringing students and patrons into a construction zone,” said Tim Foutch, NSU vice president for operations.
The pool closed after a state inspection indicated that eventually, the pool surface needed to be repainted and the deck repaired. Lifeguard stations, 911 access and Americans with Disabilities Act compliance were also declared inadequate, according to university officials.
NSU officials said they had planned to delay addressing those issues until the overall remodeling project began in 2013, but a patron complaint to the state health department spurred them to act immediately.
Bradshaw said he has yet to secure a commitment from NSU that his team will be allowed to practice in the facility when it reopens, and tht’s what bothers him the most.
“It aggravates me that NSU, especially after this tax thing, is not willing to consider the needs of the community over the desires of NSU. They’re just focusing on that other [multipurpose] facility, and have put the Fitness Center on the back burner. They’re just ignoring this youth program. I can’t even get a return phone call from NSU.”
Bradshaw was referring to the city sales tax measure passed Jan. 8 by Tahlequah voters for infrastructure improvements. NSU will receive $1.5 million from that package to expand the mulitpurpose center, which is currently under construction.
Bradshaw believes the pool could be reopened for the sole use of the swim team, as NSU faces no possible liability for the youngsters’ health or well-being.
“All of our kids are totally insured at $1 million per child, and all of our coaches have had extensive training as lifeguards, in CPR and first aid; otherwise, we would not have received the USA Swim Team designation,” said Bradshaw. “There is no liability at all on the part of NSU.”
Since the pool closed, the team has been practicing at various other sites, most recently at Maryetta School near Stilwell.
Parents are responsible for providing transportation two days per week to the practice sessions, and the team’s membership has dropped from 44 to 19.
“But our kids are committed,” said Bradshaw. “They’re competing against swimmers who are practicing two to three hours a day, five days a week. At our last meet, we had a bunch of kids place in every event in which they entered. Sydney Taylor broke the state record in the 50-meter backstroke, and was off by [hundredths of a second] in setting two other state records. We have kids who could swim on other teams, but are coming from Fort Gibson and Muskogee to be part of our team.”
Bradshaw said the team has also raised funds to provide lane ropes and starting blocks at the NSU pool, and has hosted fundraisers to bring in experts like Mark Spitz to help the team.
“All of the lane ropes, which cost $500 each, were purchased by our team through fundraisers,” said Bradshaw. “The two starting blocks, which cost $1,000 each, were also purchased through fundraisers. Our kids raised $7,000 in two weeks to get Mark Spitz to come here. Boys & Girls Club pitched in the other $5,000. The community didn’t pay for one dime of it.”
Bradshaw, who volunteer s his time for B&GC, said he will continue to fight to keep the team alive.
“I’m dedicated to making this program work for the kids,” he said. “They show up, they put in the work, and I’m going to work for them.”
The $5 million renovation-expansion of the Fitness Center will require the relocation of fitness center equipment, intramural programs and classes during the construction.
More information about temporary facilities and renovation and expansion timetables should be announced by mid-March, according to university officials.
Jerry Cook, interim executive director of university relations, said NSU is committed to providing safe and modern facilities for students and community patrons.
“We regret the major interruptions in service these upgrades and renovations create,” said Cook. “[But] when the pool and Fitness Center re-open, we anticipate everyone will appreciate the significant investment NSU is making at our Tahlequah campus.”