Kansas State University Will Permanently Close Natatorium Within Three Years

Kansas State University has announced that it will keep its Natatorium closed throughout the fall 2020 semester. Furthermore, KSU will begin plans to close the facility permanently within the next three years.

Though K-State has not had a varsity swim team since 1976 when the “Wildkittens” had to fund their own program, the Natatorium has served as the center for all aquatics-related activities in Riley County, Geary County, Potowatamie County, Marshall County, and Clay County for decades.

The KSU Natatorium is home to the Manhattan Marlins, a year-round USAS club, as well as the Manhattan High School swim team. The Marlins began alternating practices between the KSU Natatorium and Fort Riley’s Eyster Pool several years ago, though Eyster Pool is currently open only four hours a day, Monday through Friday, for lap swimming.

As KSU’s pool remains closed throughout the Fall Semester, the Manhattan Marlins, who have been without consistent water time since March, have been forced to find lane space in other surrounding communities beyond For Riley.

“Due to the ventilation issues identified at the Natatorium, the university has decided to keep the facility closed this fall,” said Jeff Morris, KSU’s Vice President for Communications and Marketing. “A decision on its use during the spring semester will be announced later.”

The cost of maintaining the Natatorium and the estimated cost of repairs is very high for a university that does not have a varsity swim team or even robust intramural aquatics programs.

“A 2018 engineering study identified $4 million in needed repairs,” Morris said. “While the fees assessed to the various users of the facility are enough to cover the direct costs for its use, the university also must spend an additional $150,000-$200,000 a year on utilities, supplies and maintenance and repairs. It’s just no longer fiscally viable or safe for the university to continue its use.”

The K-State Natatorium has for many years been an invaluable resource for summer league swimmers from nearby communities looking to get a taste of year-round training and competition. Athletes from much smaller nearby towns including Clay Center, Riley, Wamego, Council Grove, Marysville, and Westmoreland have made the daily commute to Manhattan in order to swim with the Marlins for decades since those communities lack indoor pools. The KSU Natatorium is located in the heart of KSU’s campus and only about a mile from Manhattan High School. The Eyster Pool in Fort Riley is a full 26 minutes away from the KSU Natatorium, though much closer to Junction City and Council Grove, but much further from Clay Center, Riley, Wamego, Marysville, and Westmoreland.

The Manhattan Marlins have produced many NCAA and National-caliber swimmers over the years. Amy Oberhelman is the Marlins’ most famous alumnus. She achieved NCAA All-American status as a member of the Stanford women’s varsity swim team and was the 1995 PAC-12 champion in the 1650 freestyle (16:20.93) and a member of the 1996 PAC-12 champion 800 freestyle relay (7:17.19). Oberhelman and her Stanford teammates also won the 1996 NCAA Championships title in the 800 freestyle relay in a time of 7:11.28. As a swimmer for Manhattan High School under the guidance of Coach Jerry Carpenter, Oberhelman was an 8-time Kansas high school swimming state champion, winning titles in the 50 free, 100 free, 200 free, 100 fly, and 200 IM. The only other women to win 8 individual titles in Kansas high school swimming are sisters Caroline Bruce and Jamie Bruce of Wichita Trinity Academy, both of whom also went on to swim at Stanford, though years after Oberhelman had graduated.

Other NCAA All-Americans from the Marlins include Abbey Musch and Anna Grinter who went on to swim at Division II powerhouses Drury University and Truman State University, respectively. Musch won the NCAA Division II title in the 400 IM (4:25.83), helping Drury to a team title, breaking Truman’s six-year win streak.

Other Marlins alumni include KSHSAA state champions Jeremiah Ungerer (100 freestyle, 2009) and Preston Harrison (100 fly, 2018), who currently swims at Miami University (Ohio), as well as numerous other state finalists, Speedo Junior Championships, and Speedo Sectionals qualifiers.

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ct swim fan
13 days ago

Why don’t they have a college team?

Kansan
Reply to  ct swim fan
13 days ago

It’s Kansas. Not a lot of interest.

DravenOP
Reply to  ct swim fan
13 days ago

Definitely not a lot of swimming interest in the midwest.

Nugget
Reply to  DravenOP
13 days ago

This is actually not true. Minnesota, Ohio, and Iowa have robust swimming programs from the age group level upward and have for years. (Bootsma, Plummer, Regan Smith, Foster brothers, Isabelle Stadden, and countless national level swimmers as well just to name a few.) Sure, not as much in Kansas but generalizing to the entire Midwest (when they are significantly faster than a LARGE percentage of states elsewhere) is not exactly fair.

OKSwim
Reply to  Nugget
13 days ago

Plummer is from Oklahoma, he swam in college in MN

Jarrell
Reply to  Nugget
13 days ago

Missouri has a robust Age Group program as well. Midwest state. KC Blazers is just one team that comes to mind.

Cougarswim
Reply to  Jarrell
12 days ago

And the Blazers were primarily based in Kansas, too.

Konner Scott
Reply to  Nugget
13 days ago

Illinois & Indiana too!

Will
Reply to  DravenOP
13 days ago

Unfortunately the issue is mostly monetary. The natatorium at Kansas State was extensively used from about 6am to 10pm every single day. It serves as the primary indoor pool for Riley County meaning the highschool, college, and general community of 70,000 plus used it as the main pool from fall to spring. There were numerous private club teams and a small competitive collegiate swim club as well. Maybe swimming isn’t as popular as some other areas but the issue isn’t popularity. One of the issues is the large cost of opening a new state of the art pool. The community has been able to use the University resources for a long time so there was little reason for them to… Read more »

Seth
Reply to  Will
12 days ago

One of the most accurate and informative replies on swimswam

Susan Schoneweis
Reply to  Will
11 days ago

Unfortunately too true.

Dmswim
Reply to  DravenOP
13 days ago

The Kansas City Blazer were one of the largest teams in the country at one point and the St. Louis area supports a number of large and successful club teams. Your characterization is inaccurate.

DravenOP
Reply to  Dmswim
13 days ago

Ok. I should have clarified my statement to the university level.

Last edited 13 days ago by DravenOP
Questionable
Reply to  DravenOP
13 days ago

Missouri has a large number of college teams from D1 and D2.

Mom in AR
Reply to  DravenOP
13 days ago

Most of the Midwest does not have the population density to offset costs. We end up traveling long distances for most meets. It is difficult when the average household income is lower and the means to support teams are just not available. Things are hard in small town American.

612
Reply to  DravenOP
12 days ago

SMFH

Will
Reply to  ct swim fan
13 days ago

D1 FBS schools must both meet Title IX requirements and minimum sport requirements. This means equal scholarships for men and women and a minimum of 16 varsity sports. There was a men’s and briefly a women’s team but for budgetary reasons Kansas State reduced down to the minimum 16 sports. K-State has not had facilities at the level required for collegiate competition for awhile, and the natatorium is owned by the University, not the Athletic Department. When equestrian was dropped soccer was picked up as the last women’s sport because it was probably cheaper than building a new pool and is honestly just more popular in the area.

Meeeeeee
Reply to  Will
13 days ago

An example of a school that put much of its resources to football and thus cannot provide equitable opportunities for other student athletes.

Will
Reply to  Meeeeeee
13 days ago

K-State doesn’t have any swimming student athletes (not at the NCAA level) and hasn’t for quite awhile. Swimming was cut back when K-State spent the least of any Big 8 school on their athletic department including football, which was one of the worst and most underfunded programs in the country. Reinvesting athletic surpluses or disparity among the different sports is one thing but this is not affecting current student athletes any more than the average student. Also worth noting that football and the TV revenue it drives provides the large majority of profits for the athletic department. I would like a new natatorium for Kansas State but the issue causing the closure is not investment in the football program causing… Read more »

Doconc
13 days ago

But u can guarantee they have a sweet football stadium, training field and locker rooms, training table etc

What a joke

Will
Reply to  Doconc
13 days ago

K-State has a very nice stadium, field, and locker rooms. The athletic department is self funding and does not sponsor swimming so I wouldn’t look there for the resources for a new natatorium, although it would be great for them to pick up swimming and contribute funds.

The K-State Rec Services and Manhattan community should probably partner on a new indoor facility. Something similar to what Lawrence has (and Free State uses as their home pool) could be done. Not sure if the Rec Center has room at their massive facility but there is land elsewhere that could be used.

Coachy
Reply to  Doconc
12 days ago

People, quit whining about other sports all the time and figure out how to make yours better!

JasonZajonc
Reply to  Coachy
12 days ago

Agree. All sports are faced with issues. All.spoets need to figure it out. It always comes down to money. Swimming is an amazing sport. Teaching kids and people of all ages enjoy pools…we have issues here in California as well…not just the mid west. Pools cost money to run…and they don’t always bring in lots of money. While local gov used to spend money on pools they can’t afford it anymore…and right now it is tuff…so enjoy what you have and fight the battle for a new space…gotta look into the future and see how we can thrive as a sport.

Mark
13 days ago

What about an outside group either buying or leasing the facility and assuming the cost of maintenance & operations? Cheaper than building a new pool. They could even lease time back to KSU for any programs,
Thinking about the Florida natatorium that is actually owned by the Alumni Foundation and then leased back to the university.

Will
Reply to  Mark
13 days ago

Probably not a good option for several reasons

  • The building structure itself has corrosion damage from the chlorine
  • The building and pool design is outdated and ideally should be updated
  • The natatorium is attached to Ahearn Fieldhouse with shared locker rooms, so an agreement for sale and use is not as simple as a free standing building on its own parcel

Based on the article and experience I have a hard time believing a private group can come in and make the changes necessary for operation and make a profit on it. In addition the pool and layout is dated and probably should just be replaced rather than more money sunk into the facility.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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