New pool design still hard to swallow for some alumni

A rendering shows what the new Richards Building pool facility will look like when it is completed. (BYU Richards Building Pool-Facebook)

Wispy strands of steam waft from the surface of the outdoor pool at the Riverside Country Club in Provo — not because the water is particularly warm, but because the surrounding air is freezing.

Most people wouldn’t dip a toe in an outdoor pool in the middle of December.

But then again, most people aren’t Division I athletes on the BYU swim and dive team.

The BYU swim and dive team is practicing at the country club because their usual aquatic home in the Richards Building on the BYU campus is undergoing a complete renovation.

Having an old and outdated swimming facility replaced with a new one would usually be a cause for celebration, but the renovation plans, announced in January 2017, have been met with criticism from the BYU swim community.

The new BYU pool will measure 42 yards long by 20 yards wide — a design “that is almost 50 percent larger in water capacity and allows for more flexible training as well as intramural activities,” according to BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins.

“The university has made clear that the new pool is designed to continue to serve both the university’s aquatic programs and BYU’s intercollegiate swim program,” Jenkins said.

But the new design is still about 11.5 meters short of a standard Olympic pool at 50 meters long.

This is a cause of disappointment for Jordan Fletcher, an alumnus who swam for BYU from 2010 to 2014 and worked as an assistant coach from 2015 to 2016. 

“Imagine the track team training and they can’t compete on a 400 meter track,” Fletcher said.

He explained training for races held in regulation-sized pools is more challenging in a shorter pool like the one BYU is getting.

“The turns are much tighter,” Fletcher said. “For our races, we have to train to go about 30 seconds without stopping. Now we can only go 10 seconds without stopping.”

Michael King, who swam for BYU from 2011 to 2015, was frustrated when he heard about the renovation plans. The 42-yard pool was not what he and others were expecting.

King said throughout the years, coaches and administrators promised recruits a renovated facility that included a 50-meter pool.

“The plans they ended up drawing up were completely the opposite of what we had been told for 15 to 20 years,” King said.

This and a fear that the administration was not committed to the swim program’s growth led King and others in the community to promote a petition calling for BYU’s administration “to keep their word and provide the community, the BYU student body and the Swim & Dive program with a facility that meets their needs.” It ultimately gained about 3,900 online signatures.

The plans for the renovations were expedited following a failed inspection of the 52-year old pool facility’s foundation. The January 2017 announcement said the new facility would be built within the building’s existing structure.

Fletcher speculated that this cost-cutting approach of not tearing down any walls was the reason for the smaller 42-yard pool.

But in the year since the plans were revealed, King became less frustrated and more hopeful about the pool’s and program’s futures.

“It seems as though concessions have been made where we thought they wouldn’t be,” King said. “It’s not a 50-meter pool like we all had hoped, but it’s still going to be a really, really good facility.”

Others are excited about the new facility, despite being disappointed that it won’t be the pool they had been promised for so long.

BYU associate professor Dale Cressman swam for the Cougars from 1979 to 1981. He said he’s grateful the pool is being rebuilt.

 “They could have very easily said, ‘Look, this is too expensive,’ and just put in a bunch of basketball courts,” Cressman said.

He sees BYU rebuilding the pool as a vote of confidence in the swim and dive program’s future.

The swim and dive teams are not the only athletic groups that rely on a functioning pool facility to train and compete. The BYU Water Polo Club, an official BYUSA club, has struggled to play and practice while the pool undergoes construction.

The new pool will have a “double-deep” construction (meaning both ends of the pool are the deep end) which is an important feature for competitive water polo, club president Hannah Strauss explained.

“The pool will have all (the) other “bells and whistles” associated with a legal playing field for water polo,” Strauss said. “We’re excited because this means we could become an official extramural team.”

Former club member and coach Bret Mortimer confirmed these needs.

Fletcher, however, is still not fully convinced of BYU’s commitment to its aquatics programs. He cites a lack of transparency as one of the big reasons for pushback on this project.

“Whoever was in charge of making this decision never showed their face,” Fletcher said. “The truth is whoever it was is hiding in the shadows. And what do they have to hide about it if it’s a good decision that they’re making?”

The expected completion date of the new pool is April 2018.

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