Saturday, April 14, 2007

Learn to Swim

Learn to Swim

Swimming is one of the finest forms of exercise and one of the greatest means to build character. A friend of mine once said, “Swimming builds good citizens.” I have found that to be true. Also, swimming is one of the few recreational activities that can be pursued by young and old alike. A swimming facility is an excellent investment and is one way I would like to see Countryside used.

In March of 2007, an update to the Roanoke City Parks and Recreation Master Plan was presented to the city. In the presentation, key issues relating to parks and recreation were highlighted. One of the issues brought forth was the need for a regional competition swim facility.

Currently, the city operates two community swim pools, Washington Park and Fallon Park. Both pools are fine facilities and serve the local communities very well. However, neither pool is designed with the broader goal of hosting local swim teams or regional swim competitions.

Right now in the Roanoke Valley, competitive swimming is becoming extremely popular. The valley is home to four year round competitive swim teams (Gators, Marlins, Salem Y, and Roanoke Y). The Gators and Marlins have well established programs that routinely train national caliber swimmers. Many of their alumni go on to attain full scholarships to universities all over America.

Within the past five years, high school swim teams have sprung up all across the valley. Patrick Henry and Cave Spring have long had successful programs, but they have recently been joined by Hidden Valley, Salem, Northside, William Byrd, Lord Botetourt, and William Fleming. These programs are all growing and becoming more and more successful on a regional and state level each year. Patrick Henry had excellent success at the state swim meet this year as did Hidden Valley.

The city also operates a “learn to swim” program through the elementary schools. Several weeks a year, students are bused to the Gator Aquatic Center for basic water safety lessons.

With all of this aquatic activity going on around the valley, the one thing that all of the programs need the most is the one thing that is in very short supply, a competition indoor and outdoor swimming facility. Right now, year round and high school teams have limited options for practice. They can rent the Gator Aquatic Center, The Carter Center at North Cross, The Kirk Family Y, The Salem Y, or Hollins University. With such large year round teams using the Carter Center and the Gator Center, the drain of the facilities is extreme. In addition, renting space is costly and inconvenient.

Soon after Countryside opened in the late 1960’s, the club finished a truly remarkable swimming pool. The original pool was the only 50 meter 8 lane competition pool in the region. Later, an inflatable bubble was designed to cover 25 meters of the pool in the winter. Countryside truly had a most amazing facility.

Perhaps it was a facility ahead of its time. It was built before the Gators and Marlins were in existence. The pool was ready to serve the community before there were any competitive high school teams. Times have changed. Swimming has exploded in popularity. The time for such a facility has come, and it would fit in perfectly with my vision for Countryside.

Coomes Recreation Center in Abingdon, VA

The new pool facility at Countryside should be a competitive 50 meter 8 lane outdoor pool coupled with an 8 lane 25 meter pool inside the community center/recreation facility next door. It could be built on the existing location of the original pool and clubhouse. The outdoor pool could be used by the community in the summer months. It could support a community swim team in the RVAA. The outdoor pool could support long course meets in the region for youth year round swimmers. Currently, such long course pools are rare. Abingdon, VA has one, and it hosts a huge outdoor competitive swim meet each summer for the tri-cities area. Competitive master’s swimmers could host regional meets, too.

An indoor pool would be an excellent benefit to the entire community and surrounding neighborhoods. The Salem YMCA’s new indoor pool is an excellent facility from which to model. It has a lap pool and a recreation pool joining a central bathhouse. Both pool segments receive heavy use. The “learn to swim” program could be regionalized with part of the city students going to the Gator Center and part coming to the Countryside pool. William Fleming’s swim team would have a place to practice and that program would then have the opportunity to grow as Patrick Henry’s has grown. All citizens of all ages would have the opportunity to utilize the pool for recreation and exercise purposes.

A well-rounded swim facility at Countryside makes such logical sense to me. While there has been some talk that Roanoke County will add a competition pool to their plans for a multi-generational recreation facility at Valley Poin
te, there is still no strong support, yet alone whispers of consensus for that idea on the County Board of Supervisors. That paves the way for such a facility to be built at Countryside.

I have heard children here in Roanoke express to me that “there’s nothing to do around here.” Now I don’t buy in to that notion completely; however, I do feel that there is some validity to those claims. Developing Countryside as an attractive place for teens as well as older citizens to spend in productive pursuits will serve the community at large well. Teens that are occupied with wholesome activities are less likely to become involved in less wholesome activities. Also, a facility that caters to and cherishes all citizens will become a community focal point, a place where all generations can meet, learn, and grow. Countryside could become that stabilizing force in the community.

The Coomes Recreation Center in Abingdon offers the residents of that community the kind of services that a revitalized Countryside could offer. Developing Countryside as a fine golf destination, a regional swim complex, a regional tennis center, a cherished green space rich with walking and biking trails, and a community meeting and recreation center would be a fine investment for the future, both for monetary return and quality of Roanoke City citizens’ lives..

Next time, I’ll address the community center…but before I go, here’s a blast from the past.

Posted By Valerie Garner

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