Complaining of murky water and insufficient available pool time, students and faculty are pushing for a new natatorium — the technical term for indoor swimming facilities — on campus, lobbying the University’s shared governance bodies and advisory committees in athletics.
On March 8, the University Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution supporting the Faculty Senate’s “Inclusion and Prioritization of a New Natatorium in the ‘Do the Greatest Good’ Capital Campaign” resolution, which addresses the need for a new swimming facility. The resolution has also been supported by the Student Assembly and the Faculty Advisory Committee on Athletics and Physical Education, which sponsored the original resolution.
The resolution’s author, Prof. Ashleigh Newman, veterinary medicine, has received 17 co-sponsors in the Faculty Senate and much more support in meetings from other senators who did not officially sign their names.
The University’s current “To Do The Greatest Good” capital campaign does not set aside any money for a new natatorium, despite planning to raise $5 Billion. Inclusion in the campaign would allow for a new natatorium to be funded by alumni and other outside donors, not placing the whole financial responsibility on Cornell.
Currently, the University has two aquatic facilities: a pool in Helen Newman and a larger one in Teagle Hall. These pools are used by multiple physical education classes, the men’s and women’s varsity swimming and diving teams, the naval ROTC program, club teams and other assorted activities. The pools also offer an open swim time to the Cornell community, used by a group composed of 43 percent students and 57 percent faculty, staff and retirees.
The Teagle Hall pool, built in what was originally campus’s men-only athletic facility, has a main pool with six 25-yard-long lanes, and a learning pool for new swimmers. Helen Newman, originally built as the female-only athletic facility, also has a six lane 25-yard-long pool.
Both natatoriums have had problems, which have worsened over time. According to the presentation Newman gave to the Faculty Senate on Feb. 9, Teagle Hall needs a roof replacement, and discussions of a new pool have been occurring since the 1980s.
Demetra Williams ’24, a member of the diving team, expressed frustration with the current natatorium. She hopes that a new natatorium would include a diving well with a diving platform as well as overhead showers on the pool deck.
“I have seen Teagle’s pool turn both green and purple, on separate occasions. I have seen Teagle drained, refilled, then drained again to improve water quality,” Williams said. “I have had late night practices at Ithaca College because our pool was not in good enough condition to host varsity practices.”
The pools have also had maintenance issues related to water quality, which caused home competitions for the swimming and diving teams to be moved to Ithaca College’s facilities during the 2019-2020 and 2021-2022 seasons.
“At our one and only home meet of 2021-2022 against Brown, in which facilities had spent weeks prior prepping the pool by shocking and filtering the water, one of the Brown divers looked at me and said, ‘Is your pool always this murky?’” Williams told The Sun. “And I responded, ‘This is the cleanest our pool has been in years.’”
The resolution supporting a new natatorium proposes that the University build a 50-meter pool in order to increase pool space and, as a result, available swimming hours for the community.
Wes Newman, the Head Coach of Men’s Swimming, said that a new 50-meter pool would ameliorate some of the team’s current issues, such as limited space.
“For example, the Varsity teams could have men’s swimming, women’s swimming, and diving [men’s and women’s] practices all running concurrently — something we can’t do now— which would free up more pool time for other users,” Newman said.
According to the resolution’s appendix, Brown, Harvard, Princeton, Duke and Stanford all have sufficient facilities to host swimming and diving competitions concurrently. Other regional schools, such as Ithaca College, Colgate University and Binghamton University do as well.
“From a Varsity standpoint, having a pool that could host our Ivy conference meet would be a dream,” Newman said. “However from a Cornell campus standpoint, meeting the needs of our campus community is most important.”
The pools have also taught generations of Cornellians to swim. PE 1100: Beginning Swimming, which uses the Helen Newman pool, has helped hundreds of students learn how to swim and successfully pass the University’s swim test.
The resolution emphasizes the racial dynamics of swimming at Cornell. Between 2018 and 2020, 89.7 percent of students in PE 1100 were people of color, the same groups which have higher rates of drowning. Black people have a 1.5 times higher death rate from drowning compared to their white counterparts, compared to a 2-3.5 times higher death rate for American Indians or Alaska Natives, according to the resolution.
Additionally, the resolution argues that campus gender equity and inclusion are better served with a new natatorium. According to the resolution, Teagle Hall does not have adequate facilities for individuals who do not identify as male or female. Williams also stated that the men’s locker room has more room than the women’s locker room.
“I would hope that a new natatorium would not only provide equal space to both genders, but have space for gender non-conforming or trans individuals as well,” Williams said.
The current pools are both predicted to become non-functional and unsafe to use between 2022 and 2025. Without a pool, Cornell would have to terminate all of its wide variety of pool activities, and would find itself the “Only Ivy League, Non-Ivy Peer and Regional [New York] college/university without one,” according to the resolution.
Because it can take up to 10 years to fund, plan, approve and build a new natatorium, the University will likely not have a functional pool by the time its current facilities expire.