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September 23, 2008 3:41 am

Residents await new aquatic center

Written by Tribune Staff

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Young swimmers gather in the deep end of the Powell High School pool to listen to Tanya Fawcett-Kay, Powell Swim Club coach, last week during practice. Throughout the week, the pool is shared by various groups, including the Powell Swim Club, Swim America, the Powell Recreation Department and Park County School District No. 1. Tribune photo by Tessa Schweigert

Current pool crowded

While watching her son learn swimming techniques in early September, Elaine DeBuhr realized how much Powell needed the eight-lane pool that recently was approved.

“I saw how busy the pool was, and I thought, ‘Thank God,'” she said. “The pool is packed. There are kids bumping in to each other in lanes. This new pool can't come soon enough.”

Each Tuesday and Thursday evening, the Powell High School pool teems with activity. As high-school swimmers finish their practice, Swim America students and Powell Swim Club members arrive.

Because several groups share the current facility, people hope the new aquatic center will accommodate to the community's various swimming needs. Construction for the new pool, located in Homesteader Park, is slated to begin this month, said City Administrator Zane Logan.

Currently, swimmers don't get the access they want because of the six-lane pool's set-up and schedule.

“Our problem now is, we don't have enough time or space for swimming programs,” said Jerry Rodriguez, head coach of the Powell Swim Club and program director for Swim America.

Rodriguez coaches dozens of swimmers on the Piranhas team and started Swim America — a program that allows children to learn and advance at their own pace — in May. Swim America limits its lessons so the student-to-instructor ratio is no more than four to one. About 60 children have already taken swimming lessons, and the year-round program has waiting lists for more. However, without more scheduled time in the pool or lanes for lessons, expansion is limited.

Ashli Brown of Powell said she is glad her two children are in the program, but wishes more could join.

“There's not a lot of room in the pool,” she said. “It would be sad if they had to turn kids away … it's a lifesaving skill to learn to swim properly.”

That's a sentiment shared by many proponents of the new aquatic center.

“Swimming is an essential life skill to have,” DeBuhr said. “Even if you live in the middle of the desert, you need to learn how to swim.”

Rodriguez agrees that, while Powell is in a desert climate, the surrounding canals, rivers and lakes make swimming a necessary skill.

“Swimming is the only sport that has the potential to save your life,” he said.

Rodriguez wants to see elementary school children learning to swim as part of their physical education class — something already done in Lovell.

Pat Parmer of Lovell, the Swim America site supervisor for Powell, said teaching children early gets them skilled in swimming before they're ever afraid of the water.

Parmer and Rodriguez said Swim America has enough students and instructors to expand — just not the time or space in the pool.

“Hopefully we can start a preschool program and an adult program — when we have room to,” Parmer said.

Nell Tharp, a pool committee member, said she hopes more senior citizens will use the new aquatic center, in addition to more children and young people.

“We need to have it open for lots of people,” she said.

Tharp said she also is looking forward to using the new pool during the day for water aerobics, which currently is available only at 7 p.m.

She sees the need for recreational, competitive and therapeutic swimming.

“I want the school to use it, too. I don't want to negate the need for that,” she said. “The pool should meet the needs for the school and community.”