To June Mather, the case in favor of Ashland building a pool to replace the soon-to-be demolished one at McNeal Pavilion has common sense on its side.
“I believe in the big picture that swimming is a lifelong sport,” said Mather, who’s been a member of the Rogue Valley Masters swim team since its inception in the mid-1980s. “It is a non-impact sport. In terms of safety I believe that all children should learn to swim — you hear about drownings on the Rogue River every year. Also, I think it’s good for all ages. I’ve swam in swim meets where there are 80- and 90-year-olds swimming and I think that that should be encouraged in this community, but it’s sorely lacking in view of the attention and the money resources put into other sports.”
Now, Mather and the ad-hoc group she co-chairs, the Southern Oregon Aquatics Committee, will try to use some of that logic to convince enough Ashlanders that the benefits of building a competitive pool in Ashland are worth the hefty price tag that will likely be attached to it if and when the project does get off the ground.
Even before a short-term solution to Ashland’s no-competitive-swimming-pool problem was in the works — a plan to upgrade Daniel Meyer Pool is in the works — local swimmers who were left scrambling after Southern Oregon University drained its pool three months ago had formed the SOAC, whose primary goal is to find a long-term solution as quickly as possible. The committee is headed up by Mather and Shannon Keegan, two of some 30 Rogue Valley Masters who range in age from 28 to 72 and meet consistently at Daniel Meyer.
The Masters is essentially a workout group registered under the Oregon Masters Swimming Local Masters Sanctioning Club. According to its website, the Masters called Southern Oregon University’s pool home for more than 30 years. Then the pool was drained in June, months before its planned demolition as part of the university’s massive, $29 million remodel and expansion of McNeal Pavilion. Once completed, the new and improved McNeal will include a 58,000-square-foot student recreation center, a main gym, an auxiliary gym and a dance studio. But no pool.
The Masters lobbied hard for SOU to include a pool in its plans, but when the school decided against it the local swimming club turned its attention to other possibilities. Forming the SOAC in July was the first step. The idea to create a committee was first broached July 1, and its first meeting was held July 19. So far, it has 15 to 18 members, Mather said.
“The goal as I see it is two-fold,” Mather said. “The first part is to represent the aquatic interests in the community, and the second goal is to explore the possibilities of building a competitive pool in the Rogue Valley — to contact as many organizations, community leaders, individuals, potential donors as possible and explore the possible site for this competitive pool.”
When it comes to competitive pools, size matters. Mather said a long-course pool that’s 50 meters by 25 yards would be ideal. But, she added, that would also be the most expensive option.
“What we would settle for,” she said, “what we would love to have, would be a 25-meter by 25-yard pool, preferably eight lanes wide.”
Until that happens, the Masters as well as other local clubs and teams such as the Ashland High School swim team and AHS water polo team will have to settle for whatever they can get, even if that means practicing outside in December. On Tuesday, Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Michael Black recommended to the Parks Commission that heating and insulation upgrades estimated to cost $20,000 be made to Daniel Meyer which would make winter use possible. The commission would allow the Ashland School District, the Phoenix-Talent School District and the Rogue Valley Masters access to the facility from November through February for the next five years.
Ashland High swim coach and Masters president Todd Lantry hopes a long-term solution is reached by the time that agreement expires. But he knows that in order for that to happen, a lot of pieces will have to fall into place.
“To make it happen, it’s going to take coordination with both the city and potentially the YMCA,” he said. “We’re hoping that the YMCA will be amenable to building a pool, but they haven’t committed. Nobody’s committed.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org.