By Mike Gustafson//Correspondent
Imagine that you train in the same beautiful outdoor facility for years. The same 50m pool where former Olympians have trained, shed sweat and tears, and hosted countless championship swim meets. And then, one day, you learn it’s being sold to a housing development.
Phoenix Swim Club just learned this news earlier this year. The club’s pool, which is owned by Brophy College Prep, is in the process of being sold. This is the same 50m facility where club-trained swimmers won nine Olympic medals at the 2000 Olympics. This is the same place where Gary Hall Jr. and Anthony Ervin once trained. It’s a historic aquatic complex that has hosted numerous state championships, Masters meets, and some of the nation’s fastest swimming.
Soon, the nearly 10-acre facility could be filled and paved over.
As the swimming world sets its eyes on the upcoming Arena Grand Prix at Mesa presented by VisitMesa.com, one of the sterling and most historic facilities in the geographic area is in danger of being filled in and closed. Recently, an uprising of protests have emerged from the local Phoenix community, most notably from Brent Rutemiller, the CEO of Swimming World Magazine. An online petition to save the special permit designation has garnered over 1,800 signatures.
A new pool is in discussion, but there are questions about the future access Phoenix Swim Club would have to such a facility:
“The Phoenix Swim Club is only a tenant and is at the mercy of Brophy,” Rutemiller wrote in an editorial last month. “As a tenant, its voice is compromised and muted for fear that it will be evicted or not allowed access to Brophy's new facility, if and when it is built.”
There is currently a special designation applied to the pool that could stop and halt the pending sale, and Rutemiller argued last month that this designation is worth keeping. “The fact that this is the only world-class, Olympic size training facility in all of Phoenix is certainly worthy of city safeguards.”
Unfortunately, many pools suffer similar demises, sold to developers who construct housing developments or restaurants or parking lots. Numerous pools around the country have seen their extinction at the hands of developers and pay days.
I have seen first-hand what happens to a community pool that gets filled in. In my own hometown community in Michigan, a fraction of the size of Phoenix, our community pool was filled, boarded up, and closed for good. To this day, no pool has been built and no facility has been constructed. Where once we were blessed with a 6-lane, 25-yard outdoor facility, now, there is only some grass and weeds. The space is left vacant. There is an entire community devoid of a swimming pool.
At some point we must ask what price do we put on these types of facilities in our cities? What price is a historic 10-acre training facility that continues to train Olympic hopefuls? What price is prime real estate worth when that real estate is used for people around the community to live healthy lifestyles, for Special Olympians to swim and enjoy the water, for Masters swimmers to log up and down the pool before work in the morning? At what price do these things come?
Apparently that price is a few million dollars. Which is a sizable amount of money, to be sure.
But it’s disappointing to see the facility and club in turmoil, where swimmers don’t know where they’ll soon go to swim. Perhaps when Olympians around the nation congregate to the Phoenix and Mesa area for the Arena Grand Prix at Mesa next month, there will be reminders about the importance of swimming pools, access to facilities, and historical components of such facilities. No one wants to see a beautiful pool filled in with dirt. Around 1,800 people have vocalized that sentiment in petitions. But as the perhaps inevitable conclusion looms, it reminds me of an old song quote that seems appropriate:
“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Mike Gustafson is a freelance writer for USA Swimming and Splash Magazine.