UPDATE: Durham Parks and Recreation Department reached out to the INDY saying it is working with all of the displaced teams to find practice space and will be updating us when that happens.
With the Summer Olympics behind us, you’d think pools would be eager to accommodate swimmers who want to go for gold or train for their college team. But the already-limited indoor public pool space in Durham will drastically decrease this fall, as the city’s Parks and Recreation Department has decided to close the Edison Johnson Aquatics Center on Murray Avenue on November 7 for repairs. Assistant director of Parks and Recreation Jason Jones says the repairs should take about eleven weeks.
Originally the pool was set to close after the swim season, which begins in October, wraps up after the state championship on February 11. The early closing means swim teams from some Durham schools are left looking for alternate practice facilities. The closing was moved up as a safety precaution.
One parent, David Rigsbee, whose son is a senior swimmer at Riverside High School, emailed Jones to complain. His son is being scouted by a handful of colleges, he says, and many of his teammates are, too. “It’s not just our school,” Rigsbee says. “The problem is, water is so limited in Durham and Raleigh, when you take away that many lanes right at the beginning of the swim season, that materially affects hundreds of kids.”
Edison Johnson is one of two indoor pools run by the city. The second, Campus Hills, is on Alston Avenue. So by closing Edison, the city is shutting down half of the pool space available through Parks and Rec. The closure will affect more than high school swimmers; it impacts everyone who uses the facility for exercise, too. Jones says the closing will allow the department to make needed repairs, including replacing the malfunctioning dehumidification unit and associated ductwork.
“The unit that failed not only controls the humidity, it also exhausts chloramines (the heavy chlorine smell within pools that is stronger after swim practices/meets) and heats the pool water,” Jones says. “Chloramines are the byproduct of the chlorine in the water interacting with sweat, bodily fluids, lotions, makeup, etc., that swimmers introduce. If they build up, they could cause eye, skin, and respiratory issues for swimmers, as they tend to hover close to the pool’s surface. … To perform this task, we will have to drain the pool. Concurrent to the dehumidification work, we will also be having new LED lighting installed, and will perform our annual pool maintenance work including repainting the pool.”
Five schools practiced at Edison last year: Northern High School, Riverside High School, Durham School of the Arts, Voyager Academy, and the N.C. School of Science and Mathematics (go Unicorns!). Closing the pool early will affect up to three hundred Durham high school swimmers, attorney Deborah Pritchard wrote to the city council in an email.
Pritchard said so far only N.C. Science and Math and Voyager Academy have been able to find a secondary space, leaving traditional public school swimmers scrambling to find other options.
Jones says the department has reached out Duke University, N.C. Central, and the YMCA. “When we contacted the schools, we were able to identify the other area pools that were willing to accommodate the teams,” he says. “In addition, [Parks and Rec] plans to accommodate two of the displaced swim teams at our Campus Hills pool.”
But that could present its own problem, Pritchard argued in her email: Campus Hills already has teams practicing there, and adding more teams could “overburden” the facility.
Late last week, Pritchard, whose two sons are both swimmers, told the INDY her email to city officials was an attempt to get the city to change its mind. There’s been no talk of legal action, she says. Instead, parents are trying to find a solution.
“I became a little concerned about that, because there were no other plans to accommodate those five teams,” Pritchard says. “I’m more interested to see if we can come up with an amicable decision, or even allowing a three-hour block for the swimmers to practice. Something creative like that would be more than acceptable to the area schools.”