April 18, 2022

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: RE: ‘A Deep Dive into the State of Cornell’s Pools’

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To the Editor:

Gabriella Pacitto ‘24 is to be commended for her March 29 article that discussed the deteriorated state of Cornell’s aquatic facilities. Athletic director Andy Noel’s statement that “Our pools are operating beyond their expected life span” is an understatement. As a long time user of the Helen Newman pool, I can attest to that facility’s decrepit state and frequent breakdowns and closures.

While Pacitto’s article provides an accurate description of the dilapidated state of Cornell’s aquatic facilities, it does not give a complete accounting of how this situation is affecting the Cornell community. I agree that intercollegiate and intramural training and competition, as well as physical education should be the pools’ highest priority uses. However, other important uses, and other stakeholder groups beyond students, also merit effective access to Cornell’s pools. Cornell prides itself as being an inclusive academic community comprised of students, faculty and staff (both active and retired). These Cornell community members use the pools for a wide range of legitimate recreational, and health and wellness activities, including but not limited to lap swimming, aqua therapy, water aerobics and community swims for faculty and staff as well as their spouses and children. Many of these uses have been disproportionately and adversely affected by the pitiful state of Cornell’s pools.  

For example, aqua therapy (a form of physical therapy) has been seriously curtailed as a result of the Helen Newman pool’s frequent breakdowns.  Previously, the sessions were scheduled for one hour per day, three days a week. Following breakdowns of the pool, access to the pool for aqua therapy has been curtailed or eliminated.  After one such closure, at the behest of aqua therapy users, I met with Cornell’s director of aquatics and her staff to request greater access to the pool for therapy and post-surgical rehabilitation. My request was declined, and I was told that aqua therapy was not a high priority, given the pool’s diminished status and the continuing demand of student users. This is not the message I had hoped to receive, but it was hard to disagree with given the reduced capacity of Cornell’s dilapidated pools. 

Recently, the Cornell Faculty Senate and the University Assembly have adopted resolutions that a new natatorium should be included in Cornell’s “To Do The Greatest Good” capital campaign. I fully support this resolution, and I would like to make two recommendations. First, the new natatorium should accommodate the diverse needs of Cornell’s entire community including student athletes, other students and faculty and staff (both active and retired). Building a single-purpose facility focused mostly on intercollegiate and intramural training and competition would be a terrible mistake. Cornell should build a multi-functional aquatics center that is comparable to those at its peer institutions. Second, I recommend that the Aquatics Department establish an advisory committee to assist it in determining the proper allocation of access to the University’s aquatic facilities. This committee should represent the main user groups, including those focused on athletic competition, physical education, health and wellness and recreation.

Prof. Emeritus David L. Brown, Global Development