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Swimming Technique October-December 2000 Feature Article

By Kari Lydersen

A Heat Wave of New Mega-Pools

New pools abound in the United States, with four new facilities being built in the Phoenix-Tempe-Mesa area of Arizona. Although smaller, but equally breathtaking, Commerce City (Calif.), Portland (Ore.) and Bloomfield Hills (Mich.) will also be home to new facilities, providing an indispensable asset for their communities.

The adjacent Arizona cities of Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix have quickly growing populations that already number over one million combined. The temperatures there can be scorching—as many as 100 days a year over 100 degrees. There is ample affordable hotel space in the area, which is served by a major international airport.

Therefore, aquatics directors, city planners and coaches in the area think it is only logical that it be an aquatic mecca for national and international competitions, including swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo, as well as for large-scale aquatics-based entertainment.

The metropolitan area already is known in the swimming community for its fast teams and swimming-friendly weather. It hosts top teams such as the Phoenix Swim Club, Tempe Rio Salado and Mesa Aquatics, and last year it held the NRPA National Aquatics Conference.

And the construction of two major new facilities in the next few years as well as the recent completion of several new community pools should increase its swimming cache even more.

The city of Mesa is projected to have a new mega-complex, the Mesa Indoor Aquatic Center, open by 2003, with two indoor 50 meter pools along with therapeutic and training pools. The site is being considered for the 2005 Goodwill Games and would be suited for other major national and international competitions. It will be built as part of a downtown revitalization project, including a performing arts center as well as other development aimed at bringing tourism and residents to the historic area.

J.R. Pooler, a USS official and member of the advisory committee for the Mesa pool, added that the facility is being designed with a focus on hosting competitions for the disabled such as the Paralympics and the Special Olympics.

"We went to the Paralympic Nationals in Indianapolis this year to observe the nuances of running that meet," said Pooler, who is the programs operations chairman for Arizona Swimming. "The goal is to be in the position to run top-level national and international competitions in swimming, diving, synchro, water polo and disability games."

Pooler is also excited about the plans for a new pool in Tempe, where he is the managing engineer for the city.

Once the final details of finding an acceptable location are worked out in Tempe, another new major competition pool will be built within about 10 miles of the Mesa facility. The Tempe facility will be a 10-lane, 25-yard by 50-meter pool suitable for major international swimming and diving competitions. But it will also be much more than that.

Plans call for an "AquArena," which can showcase Esther Williams-style Hollywood aquatic extravaganzas as well as major international competitions. This would be achieved with an innovative 20-yard by 25-yard "rising floor" in the pool, built in the image of the "O Show" in Las Vegas. Large-scale hydraulics, suspension bridges, lighting, trapezes and other special effects will be used in performances that will feature swimmers, divers, synchronized swimmers and gymnasts, merging sports and entertainment in a venue that project CEO Zev Buffman calls "the only thing of its kind in the country."

Buffman, a Broadway producer, said swimming stars, including Esther Williams and Mark Spitz, are already involved with the project, and he expects to hire about 50 Olympic gymnasts, divers, swimmers and synchro swimmers for one-year contracts in shows.

"This is one of the ways athletes can keep going after they've retired from competition," said Buffman.

The AquArena will be near Arizona State University, with the university involved in the programming.

"It can also be used for children's theater, and for teaching children how to be in shows like this," he said. "With this crazy thing we're doing, we'll be serving both as Broadway, Las Vegas-style entertainment and a venue for championship sports competition."

In addition to the indoor project, Mesa recently opened two new state-of-the-art community pools. These were financed by a creative partnership between the school district and the city, in which school and city funds were combined to meet both students' and the general community's needs.

In general, Mesa residents are highly dedicated to swimming and aquatic activities. In a vote taken on the proposal for the Brimhall community pool, which opened this summer, 96 percent of voters voted for the pool's construction.

Mesa residents showed their love for swimming by voting for a sales tax increase in 1998 of one quarter percent over eight years and one quarter percent permanently to fund new pool construction. This will provide a projected $15 million over the next eight years to be used for the construction of the major indoor facility as well as local pools. The permanent one quarter percent increase will provide an additional $500,000 annually for operations and upkeep.

These new Mesa community pools may not be hosting the Goodwill Games or even a junior championships, but like community pools all over the country, they contribute to the good of the swimming community (as well as the general public on a hot day!) and introduce future Olympians to their first swimming experience.

Profiled below are the Mesa and Tempe pools and another top new facility as well as a few of the new community and school-oriented pools that spring up around the country each year.

Tempe, Arizona

  • Location: Final location still to be determined; on Tempe lakefront adjacent to Arizona State University
  • Cost: Not Available
  • Dimensions: 108,000 square feet; combination 50 meter pool/diving pool with hydraulics and moving walls; converts to one of three configurations: 1. 50 meter competitive pool with two movable bulkheads; 2. FINA/U.S. Diving regulation pool with standard diving platforms; 3. Pool-stage for theatrical performances by a resident company of Olympic champions
  • Concept: Broadway producer Zev Buffman, based in Southern California
  • Architects: Tyndall Associates: president Joseph Tyndall, senior designer Michael Rumpeltin
  • Contractor: Chanen Construction, Phoenix, Ariz.
  • Consultants: Production Resources Group, Counsilman-Hunsaker and Assoc., Ellerbe Beckett, Michael J. Baker Engineers
  • Features: Large-scale special effects (including pool floor that rises to become a stage) hydraulics, suspension bridges, platforms, trapezes, lighting
  • Facility: Includes 5,000-seat amphitheater venue, indoor pool, outdoor lagoon with center island stage for performances and for swimmers, restaurants, International Watersports Hall of Fame, venue for Arizona State University's new rowing team

Mesa, Arizona

  • Location: Near Mesa's historic downtown center, 18 minutes from Sky Harbor International Airport
  • Cost: $18-23 million
  • Groundbreaking: Spring 2001
  • Completion date: 2002-2003
  • Architect: BPLW Architects and Engineers, Inc.
  • Aquatic Specialists: Rowley International, Inc.
  • Project Management Consultants: 3D/ International
  • Dimensions: Two 50-meter by 25-meter pools—10-lane, 50-meter by 25-meter pool with constant depth and movable bulkheads plus 50-meter by 25-meter pool with variable depth and 10-meter diving tower; 130,000 square-foot facility; 4,000 square feet of exterior space
  • Other pools: Training pools, hot water spa, warm water therapeutic pool with wheelchair ramps
  • Features: Underwater viewing and filming, state-of-the-art electronic scoring
  • Seating: 4,000 permanent and 2,000 bleacher; wall can be opened to outside access
  • Facility includes: Spacious lobby and meeting rooms, media accommodations, concessions, locker rooms and fitness area
  • Serves: National and international swimming, diving and synchronized swimming competition, including Paralympic Games; students and local community lessons, classes and open swims; use by USS teams, including Desert Thunder
  • Funding: School district and city, including sales tax increase voted for by residents in 1998
  • More information: www.ci.mesa.az.us/parksrec/facility/aquacenter; (480) 644-2748

Mesa, Arizona

  • Open: June 1999
  • Cost: $2.5 million
  • Architect: Versar, Inc.
  • Dimensions: Three separate swimming, diving and leisure pools: 193,800-gallon, eight-lane, 25-yard competition pool; 52,128-gallon play pool; and 155,584-gallon diving pool with one- and three-meter boards
  • Serves: Students, lap swim, open swim, classes; swimming, diving and synchro competition
  • Features: Two-tiered slide curving into the leisure pool, tire swing, water sprayers, water curtain
  • Funding: City and school district
  • More information: www.ci.mesa.az.us/parksrec; (480) 644-2748

Mesa, Arizona

  • Open: Summer 2000
  • Cost: $2.5 million
  • Architect: Versar, Inc.
  • Dimensions: Two pools: a 400,000-gallon, 8-lane, 25-yard hybrid leisure and competitive pool and a small, shallow pool with an open slide and an enclosed slide
  • Serves: Lap swim, students, open swim, classes; swimming, diving and synchro competition
  • Features: slides, elevated tumble bucket
  • Funding: Approximately $250,000 from the school district, city funds
  • More information: www.ci.mesa.az.us/parksrec; (480) 644-2748

Commerce City, California

Gabriel Martinez, the head women's water polo coach at the East Los Angeles team which recently placed an athlete on the Olympic squad, says the new pool about to open in Commerce City will have a "drastic" effect on the water polo teams there.

This year, Martinez is sending player Brenda Villa to Sydney. With the new state-of-the-art, 39-meter by 25 yard pool, he hopes to improve the national-caliber team with better training and recruiting power. (The team also currently has three players on the national junior team.)

"We hope to have many national and international water polo games here," said Martinez of the pool, which is set to open in the fall. "Before, we were in a 25-yard by 20-yard pool. This will really make a difference."

"Most cities won't put up $20 million for a recreational facility," said Jason Stinnett, a spokesperson for the city. "We were taking into account the past success of the water polo team in deciding to do this."

  • Open: Fall 2000
  • Cost: $20 million
  • Dimensions: Two indoor pools: 39 meters by 25 yards—the standard water polo area is 33 meters by 20 yards. The depth ranges from 3.5 feet to 15 feet, with the water polo area starting at 6 feet
  • Other Pools: 25-yard by 12-yard warm therapeutic pool; indoor and outdoor wading pools
  • Features: Overflowing gutters
  • Facility: Two new gyms for free weights and cardio equipment, located on the level above the pool; spectator seating for 600-800
  • Project Manager: Harris & Assoc.
  • Serves: Commerce City water polo and swim teams, local community, national and international water polo competition, local swim competition, water aerobics and lessons
  • Funding: City
  • More information: (323) 887-4404

Portland, Oregon

The new pool at the Multnomah Athletic Club, the country's largest athletic club with about 20,000 members, is used by MAC's synchro team and for some water polo training by the MAC athletes. It has also opened up space in the club's 50-meter pool for sole use by the USS team.

"It's really freed up our pool," said MAC head coach, Skip Runkle. "Now all the lessons are out, and the 50-meter pool is just used for competitive swimming."

  • Open: July 1999
  • Cost: Not available
  • Dimensions: 8-lane, 25-meter pool; 9-foot depth with movable bottom—can set the depth at 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 9 feet for lessons
  • Architect: Zimmer Gunsel Frasca
  • Pool Architect: Water Techonology (Wisconsin)
  • Serves: Synchro, water polo, lessons; state-level synchro competitions
  • Features: "The movable bottom is what sets it aside from other pools," says operations director, Stan Loop
  • Funding: Private
  • For more information: (503) 223-6251

Bloomfield Hills, Michigan

Cranbrook School, a pre-K through 12th grade private day and boarding school, got its first pool ever when the 8-lane, 25-yard facility opened last fall. Though it is too small to host major meets, the facility is home to a local YMCA/ USS team, the Birmingham Blue Dolphins, as well as the school's swim team. Now, instead of renting pool time from other schools, the Blue Dolphin and Cranbrook swimmers have a new pool all their own.

"Before, we were always at the mercy of someone else's schedule," said Scott Hedges, the coach, pool manager and a teacher at the school. "The pool has really helped. Both our teams improved drastically in the past year—they both finished third in the state."

  • Open: October 1999
  • Cost: Not available
  • Dimensions: 8-lane, 25-yard indoor pool
  • Serves: Birmingham Blue Dolphins and Cranbrook teams, high school and age group competition
  • Features: Seating for 250, large deck space, attached to existing facility with weight room by enclosed bridge
  • Funding: Private
  • More Information: (248) 645-3724