September 23, 2021

KEMPFF | Cornell’s Pool Problem Needs a Fresh Solution

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When thinking about Cornell, water is often near the top of the list. From Cayuga lake to the (in)famous swim test, water plays a central role. So, why is Cornell’s pool situation so terrible?

For a multibillion-dollar institution, Cornell’s aquatic status is staggeringly bad. The two pools on campus, located in Teagle Hall Fitness Center and Helen Newman Hall, were built decades ago. They’re short, sitting at 25 meters, and are constantly breaking down. 

Cornell’s pool situation is so embarrassing, in fact, that varsity swim meets need to be hosted at Ithaca College. The bottom line: we need change. It’s time for Cornell to stop ignoring the swimming community.

Let’s start by discussing the two pools. Teagle Hall might be best known for its breakdown problem. The strict pre-swim shower requirement has good reason: the filters are notoriously weak. As a member of the club swim team, I watched as we were repeatedly delayed from practice during the 2020-2021 school year. There was always an issue, and even the smaller, less used Teagle practice pool is frequently decommissioned. 

Long term cleaning has either cancelled or relocated many practices in recent years. The varsity team has been forced to work around incredibly tight practice schedules, many at the smaller Helen Newman pool, in order to work in as much pool time as possible.

Helen Newman’s pool is not in much better condition. Prolonged closures and another delicate filtration system has caused frequent pool problems. 

As a member of the club swim team, I’ve faced the difficulty of the scheduling situation. After a series of town halls with Cornell over the last few years, the state of the pool situation remains periled. We were basically told we can’t practice, that there is not the facility space or the staff to administer such an event. 

The club swim team is not alone. Varsity swimming, club water polo and many other organizations have faced the same problems. Beyond the pools themselves, issues of maintenance and staffing are critical. Cornell has repeatedly claimed they do not have the manpower to operate the pools fully. 

The current situation seems difficult to fix. Given the frequent nature of the issues, it seems evident that the University would need to perform significant upgrades to the pool systems to make them viable going forward.  In my opinion, that investment would seem to only prolong a pool that seems to be inadequate for the modern age. 

So, what should Cornell do? Instead of continuing to invest in two outdated pools, I would suggest Cornell seriously begins to consider new construction. 

Building a new pool will not be cheap. However, investing in a more modern infrastructure would reap many benefits. As a longtime swimmer and water polo player, I can attest to the many uses of a public pool. A fully functioning, olympic sized pool would be attractive to many partners. From youth swim teams to collegiate meets, the pool would likely see considerable use. 

It’s commendable that Cornell has stood by its swim teams, particularly at the same time other colleges (even in the Ivy League) are attempting to remove their varsity ones. This support, however, is falling short with our pool system. 

Although it’s tough to face the facts, we know these pools are not sustainable. Let’s build pools that the Cornell community can stand behind.

Brendan Kempff is a junior in the School of Hotel Administration. He can be reached at [email protected]. Slope Side runs every other Wednesday this semester.