By BOB MORTENSON
Forget the battle to place. For many Western Conference 3A and 4A teams the challenge is simply finding a place to battle.
While several schools, including Kamiak, Lake Stevens, Mariner, Marysville-Pilchuck and Snohomish enjoy the relative luxury of a pool, others scramble to get in practices and meets by sharing a limited number of facilities.
The problem is perhaps most acute in South Snohomish County where four schools in the Edmonds District (Edmonds-Woodway, Lynnwood, Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace) share two municipal pools in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace. Only the Lynnwood pool can be used for meets because diving starts are not allowed at the Mountlake Terrace Recreation Pavilion pool.
The lack of facilities leads to scheduling challenges that call for creative solutions, like double-dual meets that are difficult to complete in the time available.
“It’s frustrating, but we’re making it work,” Edmonds-Woodway coach Casi Messineo said.
Similar situations exist elsewhere around the two conferences.
Everett and Cascade share the Everett Community College pool for home meets. Cascade normally practices at Forest Park, but with that facility closed for maintenance until mid-January the Bruins have been guests at Mariner.
Sehome splits time at two facilities with Squalicum and Bellingham high schools. Each gets two weeks at the Aquatic Center and then a week at a four-lane, 20-yard YMCA pool.
“At least they get a lot of work on turns,” longtime Sehome coach Don Helling joked.
Coaches and community leaders are quick to point out that the lack of year-round pools negatively impacts communities in terms of both water safety and recreation. They are also realistic about the prospects of the situation improving in the near term.
“Pools are expensive to build and they take a lot to run and maintain,” Snohomish coach John Pringle said. “I think municipalities say ‘Whoa, we don’t want anything to do with that.’ School districts have to look at things from an educational standpoint, is it wise spending those dollars in that kind of program? It really comes down to a matter of choices.”
Over the last 10 years downtown Edmonds business owner and former city council member Dick Van Hollebeke has spearheaded various efforts to construct a year-round, 50-meter facility in Edmonds. The old Woodway High School property has been identified as one potential site. Construction costs have been estimated at approximately 10 million dollars. A capital bond for such a project would require sixty-percent voter approval.
The only year-round, 50-meter facility between Vancouver, Washington, and Vancouver, British Columbia, is the King County Aquatic Center in Federal Way.
Van Hollebeke says that despite a positive economic climate, initiatives 695 and 722 have made officials reticent to pursue big-ticket items like an aquatic center.
Still, Van Hollebeke says he is encouraged that past surveys of Edmonds residents have identified a year-round swimming facility as the city’s number one recreational need.
“We’re very optimistic that the people of Edmonds want a full-time aquatic center,” Van Hollebeke said. “We have a spectacular design for a multi-purpose facility that would have water slides, a separate tank for small children, possibly even an indoor track. Within a two-year time period it could operate in the black.”
Hal Moe Pool is managed by the Snohomish School District and serves the entire community.
“We teach a lot of kids to swim, as well as seniors and disabled people. With all the water in this area that’s critical,” said Pringle who doubles as aquatics director at Hal Moe. “What’s it worth to teach 3,000 kids a year to swim? Are they water safe, can they save themselves in a lake or a river?”
Kamiak coach Chris Erickson and others believe there is a critical need for additional year-round swimming facilities in Snohomish County to meet the ever-growing demand.
“The primary users for recreation, water safety and fitness are going to be the general public. Most of your instructors and lifeguards come right out of the competitive programs,” Erickson said. “It’s just a good wholesome activity for kids.”
Van Hollebeke is intent on continuing his efforts, driven by a simple mantra.
“Swimming is truly something you can do from womb to tomb,” Van Hollebeke said.
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