Drowning in Disappointment

Sometimes, it feels like there are more Band-Aids and bugs floating in Lloyd Pool than swimmers, and before the first practice of the current season, young swimmers had to wait for a dead bird to be fished out of the water. The floaties are just one of the problems of an aging facility that seemed to just barely survive its 36th summer. Sun regularly beats down on the faded blue, concrete structure with peeling and chipping paint. Inside, small sets of bleachers melt into pools of rust, and some balance on tired blue kickboards. Visitors walk through the dank basement changing rooms to reach the pool where the underwater floor is marked with dark smudges.

Mike Chapman, head swim coach for both Bosse High School’s team and for Greater Evansville Aquatic Team (GREAT), an age group program boasting about 60 swimmers, uses Lloyd Pool all winter. Both his GREAT and Bosse teams practice there, and while “it beats the alternative, which is not having it,” he says. “It’s not ideal.”

Seven teams (Bosse, Central, Harrison, Mater Dei, North, and Reitz high schools and GREAT) routinely share the 50-meter pool, divided into 16 lanes by a bulkhead. Typically, four teams practice at once, giving each team with 60-swimmer rosters tight spaces. These four simultaneous swim practices plus the divers in the deep end result in distracting noise levels. Scheduling also causes confusion. Locations, times, and days change every two weeks as the teams rotate. The changing rooms have no lockers forcing swimmers to pile their belongings on the deck. The facility, Chapman admits, puts Evansville teams at a competitive disadvantage. “This isn’t the best way to do this,” Chapman says. “We just got so used to it.”

They’ve been accustomed to it for at least two decades, except now, a new generation of swim parents are coordinating their efforts. The grassroots organization, the Evansville Aquatics Community Steering Committee, is young, and before the new high school swim season begins in late October, they’ll be on step one of their mission: Explain the problem.

Paul Neidig, EVSC’s director of athletics, says the issue is about the lack of funding. “We realize that it’s an important part of the community,” Neidig says. But he estimates a new pool to cost about $5 million from the capitol projects fund, used for all EVSC buildings, and that’s not including the cost of maintenance.

A pool for all Evansville public schools would need a central location, making it unreasonable to use for physical education classes. Plus, P.E. classes require the school system to find and fund suitable instructors. The pool also would host teams for the three-month season of competitive swimming, making such a commitment to maintenance hefty in relation to how much it would be used.

The state of the city’s pools isn’t a new topic. In 2006, a 29-member, city-appointed aquatics task force began meeting. Several of Evansville’s neighborhood pools were more than 50 years old. The task force held 32 public meetings, nine focus groups (which included middle-school students and adults), eight public hearings, and three community survey initiatives with the goal of developing options for the future of Evansville’s pools.

While the task force considered an indoor competitive swimming facility and the possibility of renovating Lloyd Pool, the result of the research was the construction of two outdoor pools. Both — Norman “Red” Mosby Pool at the West Side’s Howell Park and Rochelle-Landers Pool at the South Side’s Bellemeade Park — have operated since 2010.

While the city invests in community interests, it does not contribute to public school facilities, so if an aquatics center were built exclusively for the schools, the city would not contribute funds. As is, the school corporation paid $25,268 to the City of Evansville last year for the swim teams’ use of Lloyd Pool, according to Neidig. GREAT paid about $7,500.

Katy Nimnicht, the communications director for the mayor, reports that at the time of publication, city budget hearings were in process and Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel had allocated $195,000 for capitol improvement at Lloyd. She compares the debate of whether to improve Lloyd Pool to the everyday debate of whether to fix a car or buy a new one. “It’s still appropriate to repair and maintain the facility we’ve got at this point,” she says.

A new pool isn’t an issue concerning angry swimmers. Dr. Andy Tharp, an ophthalmologist at Vision Care Center and a member of the grassroots organization, is worried that a lack of quality facilities is a drain on public safety and public health. He worries about drowning as a cause of death, a problem that could be reduced if the community had more opportunities for children’s swim lessons. Additionally, he points to Evansville’s ranking as America’s most obese city in a March 2011 Gallup poll.[pagebreak]

During the high school swimming season at Lloyd Pool, not only are all the public high schools “dependent on one antiquated facility,” he says, but community members who might otherwise use the facility can’t since there is no public access to Lloyd during the season. Even if public high schools had a facility, Lloyd Pool is not a gem. “We, as the major metropolitan area,” Tharp says, “settle for this run-down, broken-down, dark, dingy facility.”

One reason members of the aquatics committee are so convinced that a new facility would boost the community is that they’ve seen the success other programs have in smaller communities. In 1991, Mount Vernon Junior High School opened at a new location, attached to Mount Vernon High School in the county west of Evansville. The connecting point was a six-lane “stretch 25” (25 yards or 25 meters) pool. Its shallowest point is three feet and plunges as deep as 13 feet in the diving area. Coach Larry Zoller, who’s been the aquatic director for 20 years, describes the pool as “small but very functional” and “a reasonably sized pool for the size of our community.”

MVHS swimmers practice almost 25 hours a week during the peak of the season, and attendance at practices is non-negotiable. He’s built an enviable competitive swim program which regularly is ranked nationally in the top 10 men’s and women’s high school teams for schools with less than 900 students, and they are regularly ranked in the top 20 teams in Indiana, regardless of school size. This year, senior Erika McCormick ranks 14th in the nation in the 100-yard breaststroke. That sort of talent earns scholarships. Zoller estimates that 2011 senior swimmers were awarded $400,000 in scholarships.

More than high school students use this facility. From third grade through their freshman year of high school, Mount Vernon students spend time in the pool. All elementary schools send third, fourth, and fifth grade students on field trips to learn about water safety. In junior high, students take two required four-and-a-half-week units of P.E. in the pool. “I’m proud of it because we can honestly say we teach every student to swim, including the special needs students in most cases,” Zoller says. In high school, students are taught to use swimming as a lifetime fitness tool.

Beyond P.E. classes, the program offers swim lessons for all ages. The pool is open for free adult swimming on weekday mornings, and there is a $2 open swim on Tuesday nights. There is also an MTV Club Team. All this is possible because of the convenience of the pool, Zoller says, but a state-of-the-art pool does not guarantee success. And the wear-and-tear after two decades of dedicated swimmers? The pool still looks new.

In Newburgh, the town east of Evansville, is the Castle High School Natatorium, which opened in October 2010. The facility came with a major school renovation including a new library and greenhouse. Funded by the Warrick County School Corporation, the 50-meter pool (which is as wide as MVJHS’s pool is long) replaced the much smaller, decades-old pool on the basement level nicknamed “the dungeon.”

The new changing rooms have 60 lockers, and the pool has anti-entrapment drain systems that comply with the latest Indiana Swimming Pool Safety Code specifications. The large size of the pool and its ample deck space also reduce crowding, according to head coach John Hart.

This space caters to the greater community, and it’s busy throughout the year. The high school swimming and diving teams (approximately 70 members), youth teams (Newburgh Sea Creatures with approximately 150 swimmers), swimming lessons (60-80 children monthly who pay prices comparable to Evansville’s Hartke Pool but for year-round programs), high school P.E. classes, and the adult team (about 70 swimmers) all swim there throughout the day. Castle industrial technology teachers even have classes there to build boats and study the physics of displacing water. “The community aspect is the most important part,” Hart says.

It will take a community, says Tharp, to realize a solution for Lloyd Pool. The aquatics committee — comprised of teachers, coaches, attorneys, physicians, and various other professionals — are working toward potential solutions with the city and the schools. Tharp says, “It’s going to take all facets.”

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