GOSHEN — Two months after Goshen College’s announcement that its pool and hot tub would permamently close this fall, an online petition to “save the pool” continues to gain backers. College officials say, though, that the pool is seldom used by students and so doesn’t fits with the college’s mission.
The college’s pool and hot tub, located inside the recreation-fitness center, will close Aug. 31. The college is currently accepting bids to fill in the pool with concrete to create a large open space, “which we envision as the first step in whatever may need to be done in that space long term,” said Bill Born, vice president of student life and dean of students.
A long term plan isn’t set, Born said, though the college will want the space to be ready to use in some way this coming school year.
College officials said that one of the reasons they are closing the pool is because of the millions that would need to be invested to maintain and repair the pool and the surrounding termperature and humidity-controlled facility. Born said operating costs, including utilities, chemicals, lifeguards and equipment repair costs, totaled $175,000 during the 2010-11 school year. Last year, that number reached $200,000. The pool is basically at the end of its usable life, though, and those expenses would only increase, he said.
Jim Histand, Goshen College’s vice president for finance, added that because of community conversations about creating an acquatic center as a part of the possible Goshen Community Center, the college has put off some major costs in favor of less expensive solutions.
“Since we’ve specifically been making some shorter-term decisions the last couple of years while we waited for clarity on the community aquatic center possibility,” Histand said in an email, “we now are faced with several much larger structural and mechanical costs that just can’t be deferred very much longer at all.”
On top of that, though, officials question if the pool has fulfilled the college’s work to serve students.
“It wasn’t designed for competition. It wasn’t designed for therapuetic reasons. It was designed for recreation and that usage is very minimal for our campus and our students,” said Histand.
The pool’s average daily attendence per month ranges from 55 to 105, with most months averaging between 37 to 50 people visiting per day. Those numbers include the six to 17 people who attend five acquatic classes held throughout the week, according to Born, many whom are repeat visitors. Saturday and Sunday attendence monthly averages range from 29 to 83 people a day. Very few of those are college students.
Though the college’s decision is set, some local community members are frustrated with the college’s approach to the pool.
More than 650 people have signed an online petition on Change.org to “save the pool.”
Rachel Paff, who started the petition, moved to Goshen eight years ago and has been a regular attendee of some of the college’s aquatic classes. She’s seen how the pool has benefited others in her classes, as well as her mother, who used the pool to ease movement issues up until three weeks before her death at the age of 90.
“They’re the only ones with a pool that’s uable in this area,” Paff said. It’s indoors, so can be used year round, and because it’s kept at a warmer temperature than local school pools, is more ideal for therapeutic use by the elderly or those with arthritis.
It’s also ideal for orthopedic patients, added Joe Dervin of Goshen. He and his wife, Patty, are also frustrated with the college’s decision.
Joe Dervin has been a lifeguard at the Goshen College pool for about 12 years and said he has seen how the lessening upkeep of the pool has affected its condition.
“The citizens of Goshen are being terribly discredited by (the college) giving them something like that then taking it away,” Dervin said.
Dervin, Paff and other petition supporters also feel that the college did not fully explore alternatives to closing the pool.
The college could have publicized its classes more, even involve college marketing or business classes, to make the pool more feasible, Paff said. “The problem is once it’s done, the resource is gone. There’s no turning back,” Paff said.
Born and Histand both said, though, that the college has been discussing what to do with the pool area for several years and that it was a difficult decision to make.
The community classes and the amount of community use “did not allow it to be as clear as cut as one may assume or some are perceiving it to be,” Born said. “We wrestled with that at great length because we do value the relationship with the community because we value that on multiple fronts.”
The college serves the community in a variety of ways other than through the pool, Histand said. “This decision doesn’t change that. That desire to continue to serve this community is very strong” and the college will find “the best way to do that within the structures of who we are and our primary mission as a student learning, higher education facility.”