When junior Isaac Milne enters the Lay Natatorium to begin a lifeguard shift, he’s accustomed to being greeted by bits falling down from the ceiling.
“It’s mostly paint so nothing to worry about at this point, but it’s definitely a sign that you gotta get to work on it,” he said,
Water polo captain and swim team member Fred Lehman, senior, notes that the team has returned during winter break after a week away to to find the pool full of debris, which has also been known to fall while people are swimming.
“It’s just gross. Who wants a piece of rusty metal in a pool you’re swimming in? No one does,” Lehman said.
The flaking roof is among the issues reported by students involved in Knox aquatics with the pool facility, which was constructed back in the 1950s.
Senior Sylvie Bowen-Bailey, co-captains with Lehman for polo, said that while the pool is not in high quality condition, prospective swimmers come to Knox informed of that fact.
“Everyone is aware that we have a bad, little pool that maybe has a lot of character, but is not a place where a swim team that wins a lot is ever going to practice. I think we are a good swim team in other ways, but maybe not the traditional competitive sense,” she said.
The Lay Natatorium is a four lane pool, below the size of a typical six or eight lane pool. Bowen-Bailey said this means Knox teams have to run practices differently, such as having two practice sessions to fit everyone in.
It also means the swimming and water polo teams can not host meets due to the pool falling short of standards. In addition to its low amount of lanes, it lacks a sizable viewing area and a timing system.
“Usually sports have at least one competition of the year that they really try to get a bunch of people on campus to,” Bowen-Bailey said. “Occasionally we’ll have other friends come see us at Monmouth, but it’s kind of sad that we never have home court.”
Lehman also commented on the issues of constantly being a traveling team, and frustration for those involved in other campus activities.
“Like this season we had to go up to St. Paul twice … that’s like an eight hour drive, and no one wants to do that,” Lehman said.
As a result of the travel schedule, Lehmen noted that swimmers are never able to be on campus for homecoming, and thus are thus unable to support alumni swimmers.
Swimmers also have to deal with persistent issues of temporarily not being able to use the pool because of parts like a pump breaking.
“That cuts into our practice time, and when you’re on the trimester system, the season is always shorter, so you need that practice time,” Lehman said.
Bowen-Bailey described how the pool drains when power goes out in the gym, having to be filled back up with cold water with no good way to heat up the pool.
“We swim in really inconsistent temperatures, and it’s often too hot and we do some cool downs walking around instead of just swimming. But then also sometimes it’s really cold and challenging in that way,” Bowen-Bailey said.
Milne stated that he saw the temperature as a less pressing issue compared to the roof, despite being what he hears the most complaints about. He stated that the temperature is taken daily and usually in the acceptable 70-80 Fahrenheit range.
Head Swimming Coach and Professor of Economics Jonathan Powers felt that while the pool is small and has mechanical issues, it has ultimately served the needs of Knox’s aquatic teams.
He noted that there have been improvements in the times he’s served as a swim coach, such as work done to the top side of the roof in 2012 that stopped leaking, as well as the addition of new pace clocks.
Milne also felt that he has seen Fitness Center Director Andy Gibbins respond well to safety concerns, such as getting a new backboard when Milne reported a faulty one and getting the first-aid kit up to code.
“I think all the things that are directly in our control have gotten better. Things we can handle like getting equipment … that’s something that [Gibbons] can totally do and he’s eager to do it,” Milne said.
Milne was less optimistic about the potential for mechanical concerns to be addressed.
“I think if we ever get to a point where something is really dire, I’m almost certain they would just kind of shut down the pool in general instead of spend the money to fix, since I don’t think our pools get enough attention in the first place,” he said.
The specific issue of the temperature is expected to be fixed with the recent improvements to the steam pipes, according to Director of Facilities Scott Maust.
Maust explained that with the old steam condensate line, hot water and steam would leak into mechanical room of the pool and cause overheating.
Now with new steam condensate lines and other changes, Maust believes temperature will be able to be kept within reason.
The issues of improving the roof’s condition would be a larger project, which Powers acknowledged he does not believe should be a high priority for the college.
“There’s a lot of what we would call deferred maintenance and this is one example of it,” Powers said. “In an ideal world we’d have a newer pool, but we’d also have all four wings of SMC done and a new dorm or two.”
Bowen-Bailey said that she while she would love to see Knox get a new pool, she understood that there are better areas Knox could be investing its current funds in.
“Yes, I want to be able to consistently practice everyday and not think that’s something going to happen, and the week before Conference people are practicing at the YMCA,” Bowen-Bailey said. “But I also think that Knox spends it money in different ways than having the best athletic facilities a lot of the time, and I came to Knox not to swim but for the full experience.”
Lehman stated that he and other swimmers have in recent years brought up issues with the pool at K-Club meetings, and were told that donors were being dealt with but given the impression that nothing was being done.
He further said that he has grown more frustrated with the state of the pool as he has been able to compare it to other schools’ and seen cash put into other renovation projects on campus.
“I don’t think the college is really going to do anything about it until it becomes a real issue. It isn’t leaking, no one’s been hurt, and so they’re just going to say, ‘Well, it’s not a problem. Those swimmers can deal with pieces of roof in the pool. It builds character or something,” Lehman said.
Milne felt that while funding may not be readily available for improvements, the worsening condition of the roof should be a concern for the school.
“My argument to that is, it may not be a priority now, but if these things go unchecked — if you just let the roof get worse and worse — it’s definitely going to be a priority if something falls on someone,” he said.
Maust responded that there were plans being put in place to make improvements to the ceiling, whose flaking is caused by poor ventilation and the presence of chlorine deteriorating concrete and paint, according to Maust.
With the temperature issue addressed, Maust believes they can now attempt to work on the ceiling if funding falls into place.
The plan as described by Maust would be to bring a power washer to blow all paint and loose material from the ceiling then proceed to repaint.
The main hurdle to this is the inability to bring power lifts into the pool. Maust said that during winter term, he will be working on contacting a scaffolding contractor to see if scaffolding can be built that would suspend over the pool.
Maust stated since he has just begun analyzing this issue, he can’t speak to the exact cost, with scaffolding being the main questionable expense. But if it can be worked out, he expected the project to start next summer.
“I can’t say that it’ll eliminate it, but it will greatly reduce anything coming down,” Maust said.
As for a whole new pool facility, Maust stated that he has heard no discussion of such a project in recent years, though he does believe the pool is nearing the end of its usefulness even as a practice facility.
According to Maust and Powers, there was an initiative in the late nineties towards building a new pool, but sufficient funds could not be raised and it was decided that the E. & L. Andrew Fitness Center would be a better project to direct funds towards.
Powers pointed to nearby Luther College in Decorah, Iowa as an example of the expense of building a new pool facility. The Gazette of Cedar Rapids reported that was completed in 2013 with a planned budget 5.9 million.
Bowen-Bailey acknowledged that despite all its issues, she couldn’t help but have some positive feelings towards the pool after four years of swimming in it.
“The paintings on the side of the walls are weird when you first start swimming and you see the big faces, but by this point, I’ve just spend so much time in the pool and made so many friends in the pool that I really love it,” she said.