I open the door to walls of All American Certificates, pass the Conference Championship trophies, and walk into Kalamazoo College’s natatorium.
Its powerful scent of must, mold, and chlorine has become associated with memories of swim season. It’s my home of yellowing ceiling tiles, a dismantled deck, rust ridden pipes, mice-infested walls, faulty filters, sinking infrastructure, poor ventilation, and one of K’s most decorated athletic teams.
It’s evident the natatorium needs to be replaced. The routine repairs on the primitive equipment are disproportionately high to the rest of the campus upkeep. Paul Manstrom, Director of Facilities and Management emphasized the inefficient, fragile, and costly building has only a few years left.
“The chlorine compounds are eating away at the concrete and steel infrastructure. Something catastrophic is going to happen to the building within the next two to three years,” Manstrom said.
As a swimmer, I’ve experienced the usage conflicts with practices, open swim, physical education classes, club teams and the Swim for Success Civic Engagement program. The team has two different practices and divers practice at 6 a.m. When it comes to meets, there’s hardly any deck space to breathe. Meanwhile, it’s a hard sell for prospective athletes when compared to facilities at Calvin, Hope, and Denison, making the recruiting process a challenge.
All the while, the natatorium ironically contrasts with the nationally recognized vision of the K experience–priding itself on a fully integrated student experience, outstanding co-curricular activities and fantastic facilities and staff to excel in the classroom and beyond. Amid the rotting facility, the program still maintains its tradition of excellence with dozens of conference titles and NCAA champions.
While the Fieldhouse, Stowe, and the Fitness center projects were advertised to emphasize the importance of exercise and sustainability in everyday life, those of us who make our daily trek to the swimming pool feel cast aside, constricted, and undervalued.
The flipside is promising for the program. The conceptual plans posted on K’s giving page show the new 37,813 square foot facility, which would include 10 short course lanes for competition, 6 extra lanes for recreational use, two three-meter diving boards and two one-meter diving boards, classroom and dryland space, and seating for 350 spectators.
All of this, I believe, will give swimmers and coaches the opportunity to create a stronger name for the program.
Aside from the team, one could imagine the friendlier environment for fulfilling the purpose of fitness and wellness would increase in campus involvement.
The greater Kalamazoo community would be able to rent the space out for high school meets, club teams, learn-to-swim programs, sports camps, and the growth of Swim for Success, making opportunities for revenue gains. Manstrom says the energy efficiency would increase by 250%.
As K approaches capital projects through means of fundraising, we’ve gained 4 out of the 15 million needed.
Manstrom and other members of the fundraising team agree the longer the school waits to put a shovel in the ground, the greater the price. The school needs to take action on the project soon. Its life expectancy is short as it continues to crumble into the ground.
More than 10 years has passed since promises of a new pool were made to Coach Milliken. While I’ll miss the retro and literally rustic feel, I’d prefer to romanticize walking past the trophies, the All-Americans, and into a natatorium created to continue exceptional swimming and diving- making our potential for greatness continue to grow as a team, as an institution, and as a community.