The story of MC’s early pool closure

Pictures taken by students of the swim team on the evening the HVAC duct fell off show the cracked ceiling over the now closed MC swimming pool. Photo by Alex Mayes and Alex Glarum.
Pictures taken by students of the swim team on the evening
the HVAC duct fell off show the cracked ceiling over the now closed MC swimming pool. Photo by Alex Mayes and Alex Glarum.

There was a noise like a door slamming loudly, remembers Madison Smith, a freshman and MC lifeguard. The Prime Aquatics swim team did not really pay attention to it; they were in the middle of their practice at the Maryville College swimming pool. It was Monday evening, Jan. 25. They kept swimming their laps back and forth when, after a couple of minutes, another noise like the grumbling of thunder could be heard.   Suddenly, a part of the air conditioner cracked off the ceiling and fell in the middle of the 75-by-32 foot pool. The piece missed one of the swimmers by several feet, but nobody got hurt. From then on, smaller pieces of the ceiling were falling down continuously.

There were around 15 to 20 people in the water when the crash happened and a couple more outside of the water, Smith recalled. It was a coincidence that she was there. Though MC hasn’t had its own swim team in years, several community teams use the pool. The Prime Aquatics swim team is the only swim team from outside the college that has its own lifeguards during practice, but Smith’s brother is on the swim team that was practicing. Smith has been a lifeguard at MC since September last year, and before that she lifeguarded at her high school for three years.

Even though Smith was not “on guard,” she had an adrenaline rush when the crash happened.

“I felt like people were counting on me because I was the only present Maryville College lifeguard,” said Smith.

She helped the coaches to evacuate pool and building; some students wanted to stay and take pictures.

“I made sure no one walked under it,” she said, adding that there were pieces falling down continuously for around 15 minutes. “I was so thankful no one got hurt. I realized how close it was and how dangerous it could have been.”

Smith made sure that everyone left; the coaches even started to pack equipment. The swim team members got picked up by their parents. Someone called Campus Security immediately after the HVAC duct and ceiling started to fall down, and it was less than 20 minutes until they came. Smith, her brother and the coaches stayed until the Campus Security arrived. The Campus Security then locked everything until the next day since it was already later in the evening.

“The swimming pool passed its use of life,” said MC President Tom Bogart later.

The pool was first opened in 1970.  Over the years, humidity and chemicals affected walls and ceiling, Bogart explained. At an inspection in 2014, it was recommended to “watch it closely,” and that was what they did, said Bogart.

In an email in November 2015, Bogart announced that the pool would be closed by spring break in March 2016. The open lap swimming for students and staff had already been cancelled. The swimming pool had only been kept open longer for the MC biology class “Tropical Ecology” and for the use of community swim teams.

The class BIO 403, “Tropical Ecology,” is a class that includes a 12-day trip to Bonaire during spring break. On this trip, research is going to be conducted both on land and in the sea and four of the students are going to do their senior study research there. Casey Gentile, junior student at MC and biology major, is one of the participating students.

She and the other students in her class used the swimming pool to prepare for the trip. To be able to go diving for hours you need to be in shape, Gentile explained. They were disappointed when they heard about the closure. The students got their diving certificates together for the class and wanted to practice in the pool in the weeks before their trip.

“I don’t think it will affect my thesis too much, but at first I was worried,” Gentile said. “But I think safety is number one.”

Instead of swimming, the students now go running. Gentile also has soccer practice, and some other students of her class have joined exercising classes. They don’t have a real alternative to practice swimming or diving, however.

“We are still going, and it will be fine, but it put us in a tight spot,” Gentile said. “I don’t think we’ll have a chance to practice diving again before we go.”

The other swim teams also have to look for an alternative. Some of them teamed up to raise money to build a cover for the outdoor pool at the Green Meadow Country Club, says Smith.

In a memo sent out on Jan. 26, Bogart stated that a new swimming pool at MC would be between $6-10 million.

“The goal would be a new pool, but I can’t see it happening in the next few years,” said Bogart

The College has different priorities. Bogart explained that the next few changes MC wants to invest in are the outdoor sports fields, the Cooper Athletic Center and the hiring of additional wellness staff. The following intention is to fill in the pool, repair the ceiling and use the space to extend Cooper, he said. Bogart even mentioned the possibility of putting a second floor in the room of the swimming pool since the ceiling is very high, but so far, that is just a faint idea.

The damage to the ceiling of the campus pool was so extensive, it resulted in the permenant closure of the facility. Photo by Alex Mayes and Matt Glarum.

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