Bob Gillett, Swimming Coach

Problem: In the United States we have a relative lack of 50 meter pool time compared to what is needed by the competitive swimming club system. This lack of quality 50 meter training pool time is primarily a result of two issues: capital cost and operational cost of 50 meter pools in relation to the massive amount of pool time needed for top level competitive swimmer development.

The capital cost of 50 meter pools has inflated to levels that now require massive affiliate associations to get community and institutional pools built. To make the projects look financial feasible on paper, these special interest groups combine their needs and desires and try to justify these large expenditures. Once the facilities are built the extra-ordinary need of pool time for a top level competitive swim program is not achieved because of the time requirements for all of the other special needs by the groups that combined in the association to get the pool built. Recreation swimming, swimming lessons, water therapy, water aerobics, adult lap swimming, water polo, diving, scuba, party rentals, fireman training, recreational swim teams, high school workouts and meet time and dozens of other “high priority needs” dilute what is needed for top level competitive swim training. This is why many swim teams around the country get the “left over” times, like 5:30 AM in the morning! Even then, after the quality times go to other activities, competitive swimming is usually left with shorter time periods than what is desirable.

In southern California, there are many 50 meters by 25 yard pools that are almost never used for long course training by swim teams. Because almost all of these pools are multi-purpose pools that are outside the controls of competitive swimming coaches, southern California has very few programs that have any significant time devoted to top level long course training. Many of these pools are NEVER used as long course competitive training facilities! This lack of long course training is one of the major reasons that the southern California club system is underachieving!

The Phoenix, AZ area, including surrounding cities, has over 16 long course pools. However, not one of these pools has a primary use as a long course training facility. Most of the time, swim teams are shut out of these facilities, and many are not even open on a year round bases because of the controlling agencies.

When it is available, pool time charges are often inappropriate for swim team use and the ability to generate supporting income. While pool fees may be at a feasible level for a “full pool of age group workouts,” they may be entirely non-feasible for a limited “top level training sessions,” that only involves 15 or so senior swimmers. For example, a $100 charge for a 2 hour age group program works, but not a long course session for 15 top senior swimmers. The old administrative response is, “Well that is just what it cost. Pools are expensive and operational costs are high.” Of course this response is true, but it provides no solution to our problem. We are being priced out of the pools!

A major problem with building dedicated competitive swimming pools is that of associated infrastructure;such as, parking lots and utility acquisition. This problem is best solved with a partnering with an existing facility, such as a private school, private club and a public institution that already has all necessary infrastructure in place.

Even then the problem with building dedicated competitive swimming pools is that of permanency for an associated partner in the project. Once the pool is built, it is there for a long time, with little future possible modification if the situation turns out to be unfavorable for the participating partners. This makes most situations that would benefit from such a partnership relationship never come to a realization. This problem is best solved for a partnering situation by developing a pool that can be moved and does not involve extensive permanent in ground construction. An above ground, module pool is a way to solve this problem for both parties.

Solution: The solution is to build low capital cost facilities that involve low operational costs. This can be done by designing a “special use” pool that is specifically designed for competitive swimming. The pools should be designed for “sweat equity” participation, because almost all swim clubs have access to this type of participation by the member families, friends and business associations. The pools should be able to be constructed with only the necessary characteristics for a safe, healthy and functional facility for “instruction and training for competitive swimming.” When all of requirements of a general, multi-purpose public pool are reduced to only what is need for a good competitive teaching and training “swim team” situation, the cost of development spikes downward.

Proposed Solution: I am purposing that we develop some flexible designs for smaller, low cost competitive pools. The pools need to be above ground and movable. We have designed a 37 foot by 50 meter (four, nine foot training lanes) competitive swimming pool. The pool is only designed for training at 3.5 feet deep. The side walls are integrated with the gutter system and return lines in a pre-cast concrete module system. Only two pre-cast forms are need, one for the straight wall sections of 30 feet (these lengths can be varied) and one for the corner section modules. Each module has under $500 worth of material cost. The pool would have only low side wall returns every 15 feet (a situation calling for a variance in most public multi-purpose pool codes). The pool would not need a surge tank because of the volume of the module wall/gutter system: one gallon per foot of surface area. The pool would need only one 7 ½horse power motor/pump, 4 – 6.9 filters, and 2 – 400,000 BTU pool heaters. Lighting would be provided by overhead fixtures. The pool surface would be a 20 ml vinyl pool liner (another situation calling for a variance in most public multi-purpose pool codes). Program flexibility involving short course training will be accomplished with a low cost movable bulkhead (under $6000) and the use of “flex-lane bulkheads” that have been used in many programs for over 20 years. This provides for eight, 25 meter or yard training lanes for younger swimmers or occasional senior sprint work. Minimum decking will be used, based upon local codes (example: 5 feet). We also have designed a small structure involving four restroom/change rooms, with outside showers and lavatories. The facility can be built for under $100,000. The annual operational cost for water, gas, chemicals and cleaning is under $50,000. If the pool needs to be covered, the cost is significantly lowered by the short width span needed for enclosure. Approximately 200 swimmers per month can be programmed into this competitive facility. Assuming a $100 per month income average per swimmer, the facility would provide a $240,000 gross revenue level. The competitive swim team program could be accomplished with one head site coach and two assistants. This pool is a potential “program module” for many situations across the United States. A 7000 meter workout in such a pool is worth the same as a 7000 meter workout in a multi-million dollar pool when it comes to performance on meet day!!

Future Steps in the Development Process:  We need additional work and help in the following areas:

  1. Engineering and calculations for wall structure and stability testing of wall structures for warping with a variety of installation formats: deck locking of side walls, non-deck locking of side walls (red heads into a poured sub-wall foundation), partial in ground installation; etc.
  2. Development of forms for pre-cast sections.
  3. Endorsement by NGB as an experimental design for local health departments.
  4. Assessments of probability of local health departments’ approval.
  5. Location of suitable partnering situations.
  6. Build a test/demonstration facility.

Participation and InquiryBob Gillett, Swimming Coach 700 Ocean Ave, Seal Beach, CA 90740 (714) 766-9767