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This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Jeffrey Kidder:
Oklahoma City – OCCC Aquatic Center Closing – a different perspective
Water is our most precious resource. We can’t sustain life without it. The world is in a water crisis now. People are dying in large numbers due to lack of access to clean water resources.
On a much, much smaller and much less critical scale, swimming cannot sustain without water either.
I am a little late to the scene on this issue – the announcement of closing the Aquatic Center at Oklahoma City Community College. But I wanted to review this from as many perspectives as possible. I do applaud the last-ditch, passionate efforts to ‘save’ the aquatic center. For the sake of full disclosure, my son swims at a high school affected and the King Marlin Club. They are one of the clubs that will have to adjust to the new realities of OCCC’s decision. However, we need to look more closely at the issues.
The need for more pools, and lanes, for use/rent by clubs, teams and school districts is clear, and has been for many years. Looking at the OKC Metro swimming scene, the reality is that the OCCC aquatic center closing decision really should come as no surprise to those in the swim business here. A 25-year-old facility, on the campus of a college without a swim team, decides that they cannot afford to lose any more revenue, or spend millions to upgrade without a solid plan to produce an ROI. It’s business 101. Yes, an annual Pro-Am swim meet contributes over $1 million in economic impact to OKC, however, that revenue doesn’t land in the OCCC bank account. Only the contracted portion of facility rental, safety and support of the event generates revenue for OCCC. The OCCC community goodwill has been great; with keeping this aged facility operational, but in all things business, money, and where you focus your resources, it comes down to aligning with your true vision and mission.
The costs to upgrade/renovate are too high for this community college. OCCC retained a qualified consulting/architectural firm, and cited the renovation costs at $6 million, and by the consultants’ assessment, that doesn’t even bring the facility to current competitive industry standards. My idea of the questions that the OCCC President and board of regents wrestled with is: “Is it in our mission’s better interest to do this aquatic center renovation project, after review of the financial and operational projections presented, or to fill the pool with dirt, pour a concrete slab over it, and build a state of the art academic research facility?”
A quick look through the comments/arguments shines more light on the issue. The local swim clubs/schools cite statistics going back many years that swimming is growing nationally, as well as here in Oklahoma. Swimming, in fact, is one of the few sports that people can do from a very early age, until their later years. It’s a lifetime sport. Moreover, every child should learn water safety, without question, or ability to pay. Although to my knowledge there is only one collegiate swim program (Oklahoma Baptist – Div III) – swimming has, and is growing here in the state of Oklahoma. USA Swimming’s website has the most comprehensive data on swimming and trends, and there are several recreational/theme park associations and resources for context on the issues.
If you do a flyover of the scene, OCCC is not the only aged aquatic center in the OKC Metro. The Lighthouse Fitness Center has to be near the brink of closing as well. Just driving onto the facility presents hazards, as you can park a car in some of the potholes. Newer, more polished fitness facilities are all across the metro now (Gold’s Gym, YMCA, Etc.) that are direct Lighthouse competitors. Other than the YMCAs, none of these new fitness facilities have aquatic centers that could be used by the volume of swimmers at OCCC, The Lighthouse and YMCA facilities. From my estimation, I thought that the Lighthouse would be the first pool to close.
A simple SWOT analysis shows that the swim community had to be aware that these facilities are, and have been, at-risk for years. Yet, there has been no actionable vision, leadership, collaboration and smart community work to promote building new facilities, position the sport better in the metro area to the general public, and the key community stakeholders. The exception here is the YMCA, who has a vision, identified the need, brought in the consulting/architectural expertise to perform feasibility, financial and community tools/resources to confirm their vision, and opened Mitch Park in Edmond. Tulsa area’s Jenks School District rallied the community for their aquatic center.
If the swimming in the metro is going to be in the fitness/wellness/sport conversation, then much more collaboration, and development, is necessary. Swim clubs, swim coaches, schools districts and other community stakeholders must put differences aside, and come together, with businesses, designers, and others, to design the future of swim in the metro. The need for well managed swimming facilities is bigger than any of them individually. Our ‘big league’ city is being developed by people who identify, and/or create the need, collaborate/share, and execute, all in the best interest of active community lifestyle and health. Water is already playing a key role in OKC, with The OKC Boathouse Foundation and Riversport playing to national audiences. It is a destination site built on a vision, and execution of that vision through collaboration. They too, have to think long term sustainability, and revenue creation, to keep this jewel vital in the community.
So, why not build an Aquasport OKC complex? A complex that can draw significant regional/national meets, while being a destination recreation center? Why can’t the community come together, bring the key community players, along with outside talent – and design/execute a vision to add creative aquatics to our community repertoire? Why not look at a couple of strategically positioned, multi-use/purpose aquatic recreation/training centers? Why not merge entertainment, and a destination water park, with a state of the art swimming and diving facility? I’ve talked with, and met, several consulting and architectural firms across the country who are more than qualified to perform all the required up-front feasibility work. Some have mentioned they could introduce others with commercial interests into the mix. How much time total did I spend doing all this? Eight hours. I made some phone calls, had conversations/meetings with people smarter than me, and gave a little thou ght on the design theme (aquasport) – as well as a design concept for the grand kickoff event. Imagine what could be done when a motivated, passionate and talented group is organized and works towards one common goal. In business, real talent is rare, and it is not cheap. However, it is the best investment any company or project can make.
So, in the short term, it appears that lots of improvising will need to occur to accommodate the current volume of swimmers and teams training for fitness, or competition. High school swim teams and the surrounding cities are especially at-risk. Yes, the area swim community is going to feel pain before it gets better. However, it can also be the greatest catalyst for change and growth as well. Every community needs to add layers of new, creative fabric and vitality to stay relevant to its citizens. It comes down to building on the rich history those before us built – and using smart design to make it better for future generations. Maybe a short term fix can be negotiated, while a larger, more comprehensive solution can be designed.
And water, our precious water, is more vital now than ever before. When observed, water has a magical presence, it can be calming and tranquil, and can quickly become dark and dangerous. Mankind and water have a centuries old relationship. And the philosophers still wonder and muse about its character. Water is life.
I’ve no doubt that the people of the OKC Metro can build a brighter, healthier tomorrow with water as a necessary and essential ingredient.