Why Doesn’t Chesapeake Have a Public Pool?

Allison Sweeney, 17, who is an upcoming senior on Western Branch High School’s swim team, recalls coming home tired from meets after 10 p.m. on a school night.  Meets often go on for hours because there are two meets going on at once. “They start around six and we don’t get home until ten-ish,”  Allison said referring to the length of high school swim meets.  “It makes it difficult to get the mass amount of homework done after the meet and still get a decent amount of sleep,” says Allison. She believes that if the city had more public pools for schools to use, the events wouldn’t last as long and she’d get home earlier.

For years, Chesapeake residents have wondered why one of the state’s largest cities has yet to build a public pool.  Swim coaches, parents of swimmers, and athletes see the problem more frequently in their day-to-day lives.  Conditions of private pools are often poor, and lack of access to equipment “takes away from the swimmers,” says Shamus Riley, Nansemond River High School’s head swim coach. Chloe Dewberry, 15, currently is a member of Western Branch High School’s swim team. In the past year at a private facility she witnessed a swimmer from another team fall off of a starting block that wasn’t properly secured to the ground.  Starting blocks are used to propel the athlete into the water at the start of a race.  “He just fell off.  Onto the deck,” Chloe says.  With the construction of a new facility, swimmers would have access to equipment and be in a safe environment.

According to Virginian-Pilot archives, discussions about a community pool date back to the 1970s.

A public pool would welcome the opportunity for more children to learn how to swim.  As stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lack of access to swimming pools is one of the main reasons for a higher rate of drowning among minorities.  Having a community pool in Chesapeake would encourage residents to sign up for swim lessons.  Now, the only options for residents are private, and private pools often charge expensive membership fees to join.  One example is the Great Bridge Family YMCA, which is $75 to join and $93 a month for a family.  Swim lessons don’t come cheap either.  The cost of four private swim lessons at the local YMCA is $85 for its members, that’s $21.25 for each half an hour lesson, on top of the monthly membership fee. In areas with public pools, such as Suffolk or Virginia Beach, entrance to community pools is free with swim lessons being longer and costing less.  For example, in Suffolk locals can get four, fifty minute lessons for $30.  With the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) listing drowning as one of the leading causes of injury and death among children aged 1-4 years old in Virginia, swim lessons need to be more accessible and affordable, especially in a coastal area.  The VDH also lists learning to swim and swimming basics as steps to prevent drowning.  A community pool would allow local families from various socioeconomic backgrounds to have the opportunity to a gain a potentially life saving skill.

Chesapeake’s need for a public pool is evident through how the absence of one affects members of the community. The city says they are listening and understand, but the field house is set to be built without a pool.  “There have been discussions about an activity center. No swimming pool,” said Chesapeake’s Vice Mayor Rick West.  A public pool could benefit multiple demographics of Chesapeake’s residents ranging from children to the elderly, and would support the “expanding of swimming,” according to Kate Sweeney who is a Chesapeake city resident and the parent of a year-round and high school swimmer.  City officials and council members often bring up the argument of “cost versus return” as West called it, yet there are many ways a community pool could bring in revenue while providing a service to those in the area.  For example, Chesapeake is home to seven high schools, all of which have swim teams.  In addition, the city is home to six USA Swimming teams.  All of these swim teams need pools to practice at as well as hold events, yet the supply isn’t meeting the demand. A community pool could serve as a location to host High School swim meets, everyday practices, or major competition meets. Yet, even with all of this, Chesapeake is hesitant to construct a public pool.

Having a pool is “definitely a need,” Riley says.  And without a pool, local competitive swimmers are forced to travel or rent pool space from private companies.  High school and club teams “travel either to Newport News or other areas such as VA Beach,” as stated by Dulcey Llyod, whose son swam for Western Branch High School and DIG Swimming.  When teams travel outside of the local area, they are often spending “two or three nights,” Llyod says, putting money into other areas.  A community pool has the potential to bring money into the city.  When swimmers come to meets they are often coming for travel weekends, and would be spending money at restaurants and hotels.  So, not only would a pool bring in money through rentals for meets and practices, but by the use of what the community already has to offer.

So far, the addition of a pool onto the proposed field house doesn’t look promising.  Councilman Roland Davis recently reported that he’d “like to get something there first, then add on.”  This just delays the construction of a pool, while Chesapeake’s residents still face the issues that come with not having a facility.  In an area near the coast and where swimming is such a popular sport, along with learning to swim being an essential life skill, council members need to rethink their approach to the construction of a pool in the area.