Another UI indoor pool closing

Another UI indoor pool closing

URBANA — The University of Illinois will close another one of its indoor pools later this year to make way for more research and teaching space.

Freer pool, inside the 1968 addition to Freer Hall, has been home to the University Laboratory High School girls' swim team, regular lap swimmers and novice swimmers who've signed up for one of the UI's learn-to-swim clinics.

"It is disappointing because it reduces options for swimming on campus," said swimmer Carol Hartman.

Many regular users of the nearly 50-year-old pool knew it would close eventually, so the news did not come as a surprise, she said. And they understand the costs involved with maintaining an older pool, not to mention staffing it.

In recent years, two other indoor pools on campus — in Kenney Gym and Huff Hall — have closed. And with an unclear future for the McKinley Aquatic Center in Champaign — members of the privately-run facility have asked the park district to buy it, but park officials, concerned about costs, have delayed that decision — swimmers could be facing busier lanes in the future.

Dave Young, girls swim coach for Uni High, said the team has practiced in Freer's pool in mornings before school.

"It was a good setup. It's somewhat close in proximity to Uni so they could get out of the pool and take the bus to school," he said.

Where the girls will practice next season is "up in the air at this time," he said. Girls swimming runs from mid-August to late-November.

"The (UI's Activities and Recreation Center) pool is someplace we'd love to practice. But the ARC has a responsibility to students, clubs and the UI women's team practices there. It could be tough to get in there," Young said.

"Pool space is limited in Champaign-Urbana, with lessons, water aerobics. It's tough to do," he added.

Campus Recreation schedules the lifeguards and staff who oversee Freer pool, and it runs some programs, like the learn-to-swim classes, there, said Doug Boyer, director of recreation and aquatics at Campus Recreation. (That's in addition to swim classes at Campus Recreation Center East, which is home to an indoor leisure pool). Freer has been a good pool for Learn-to-Swim because it wasn't too big or intimidating to newer swimmers, he said.

CRCE's pool is warmer and does not have lanes, so lap swimming has occurred at ARC or Freer. ARC's indoor pool is 50-meters, Olympic size. The 25-yard, six-lane Freer has been somewhat of a "spillover" pool for groups who could not find space at the ARC pool, he said.

"We've been fortunate to have had Freer as long as we've had it," Boyer said.

The ARC indoor pool also is where the UI women's varsity swimming and diving team practices. How Campus Rec will juggle all the demands for pool time will be a challenge, but not impossible, he said.

"I think we're prepared. ... It may mean keeping the pool open longer hours in evening. We're considering all possibilities at this point," Boyer said.

With local swim clubs like the Champaign County YMCA's Heat, an active group of older swimmers (some of whom have competed nationally), not to mention triathletes, avid swimmers and former Uni High swim coach Howard Schein said it would be wonderful to see the community build an indoor pool complex, a natatorium.

He often swims at the Urbana Indoor Aquatic Center, which was built jointly by Urbana's park and school districts.

Boyer said there could be demand for a community natatorium, but admits "swimming pools are not cheap."

"They're expensive to maintain," he said.

Some swimmers also have proposed converting the ARC pool to a four-seasons pool, one that is open-air in the summer and enclosed in the cold months.

Boyer said he didn't want to comment on those rumors.

But he did say there could be a "substantial cost factor" for doing such a thing. And such covers don't have long lives, he said.

Adding another indoor pool to campus "is not something we're looking at doing," Boyer said.

Freer Hall, at 906 S. Goodwin Ave., dates to the 1930s, but the addition is from 1968. It was built specifically for the pool, according to Bill Goodman, assistant dean for administration in the College of Applied Health Sciences.

The $14 million infill project calls for renovating about 19,780 square feet of space for research, teaching and administrative use. It also will address some accessibility issues.

Boyer said the pool will likely close at the end of the semester.

An architect and engineering firm will be selected in July this year and construction could begin in January 2017.