Gateway: Sports

Bullpen: Limited pool time in the harbor? It’s not going away any time soon

Clay Curtis of the Gig Harbor High swim team takes laps at the Class 4A state swimming and diving championship prelims earlier this year. Many of the Gig Harbor High swimmers practice for club swimming in Tacoma when they are not swimming for their high school team.
Clay Curtis of the Gig Harbor High swim team takes laps at the Class 4A state swimming and diving championship prelims earlier this year. Many of the Gig Harbor High swimmers practice for club swimming in Tacoma when they are not swimming for their high school team. Staff file, 2016

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about Mike Kelly’s efforts to create a new competitive swim club in Gig Harbor. Kelly said he wants to offer an alternative to other competitive swim clubs, such as Tacoma Swim Club, which force many of its swimmers to travel over the bridge several times per week for practices, racking up bridge tolls and gas expenses.

But Randal Keith, president of the Tacoma Swim Club, sees things a little differently.

“One thing is incorrect: The general premise that we don’t serve the community,” Keith said. “We’ve had practice on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge for 13 years.”

Keith, who lives in Gig Harbor and has a daughter in the Peninsula School District, said although the club has “Tacoma” in its name, the Gig Harbor area is a big part of the club.

“Today, a majority of our swimmers live in the Gig Harbor area, Peninsula School District students from 6 years old until up to seniors in high school.”

While Tacoma Swim Club’s youth swimmers practice in Gig Harbor, its senior swimmers, many of whom are high schoolers, often practice in Tacoma.

But Keith said he thinks the bigger issue at play is the limited pool time in Gig Harbor.

“(Mike) Kelly wants to fix the problem by taking part of the pool time?” Keith said. “I would say the reason senior and pre-senior swimmers are over the bridge (is because) that’s where we have enough pool time to serve those swimmers.”

Still, it seems like having two separate clubs would seem to make sense. Even if there was more pool time and TSC could hold practices for its senior swimmers on the Gig Harbor side of the bridge, the club’s Tacoma-based swimmers would then have to pay the bridge toll to come to practice.

Wouldn’t it make sense to have one club on one side of the bridge, and the other club on the other side? Keith said he doesn’t think so.

“You have to have a large base to build a competitive club where you’re producing top-level swimmers,” Keith said. “We’ve had a swimmer or alumni of the club in every Olympic Trials since 1964. … We have a combined 80 years of coaching experience — I’m not sure if that would be an issue or not. I just don’t see how scooping up the very short amount of available pool time is the solution. But it’s America; he can do what he wants.”

While Kelly and Keith clearly have differences of opinion about the best path forward, it seems safe to think both would agree there’s an issue with the amount of pool resources in Gig Harbor. Keith would like to see a 50-meter competition pool in Gig Harbor someday.

“The solution would be a PenMet Parks, or a private entity, or charitable foundation that can realize the need and build a facility,” Keith said. “I’m sure it would be utilized for many, many years.”

PenMet Parks executive director Terry Lee said he doesn’t see a competition pool being a realistic option in the immediate future, but also said PenMet is open to discussing anything.

“Aside from the cost of building it, the cost is of maintaining and operating a pool is high,” Lee said. “The boards, in the past, have put additional soccer fields and rec programs ahead of a swimming pool. It’s not out of the question that it could be discussed. There isn’t anything right now that talks about it in the capital improvement projects list right now. There are about 30 projects right now that the board would want to address first.”

Lee agreed that it would likely take a sizable private financial contribution to make a pool more feasible.

“Every time I think of a swimming pool, I think of the Si View Metropolitan Park District in King County,” Lee said. “They almost went under. It was important enough to get some state help. … You’d need some committed philanthropic support to really make it work. It puts a real strain on your annual budget to operate and maintain a pool.”

Lee said he hasn’t done any lengthy research on exact costs, but would be open to exploring further if the PenMet board expressed a desire to do so. But it seems unlikely at this point, as other capital projects are likely to come first.

“We’re currently looking to put our discretionary budget into lit, turf soccer fields,” Lee said. “We’re working closely with the Harbor Soccer Club to find the answer on that.”

PenMet also needs more administrative office space for its recreation department.

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