Whitefish Bay's swimming pool was known as the "fastest pool in the state" when it was built in the 1960s, but now the pool can't even host a swim meet unless it receives a $200,000 upgrade.
This school year, Whitefish Bay High School's boys and girls swim teams each only hosted one home swim meet because races are required to start in the water, not on blocks or pool deck, as normally happens.
The change in starting location comes as a result of a new safety regulation imposed this school year by the National Federation of High Schools, which ruled that swimmers cannot launch from the deck unless the water is 4 feet deep. Whitefish Bay's pool is only 3 feet, 6 inches deep at each end, which was accepted until the organization notified the school in August.
"Our pool was built in an era when pools were designed to be community-friendly by having two shallow ends," Whitefish Bay High School Activities Director John Gustavson said. "Pools across the country are having this problem."
Swimmers have not been able to start from starting blocks at Whitefish Bay for more than 10 years, as regulations prohibited launching from starting blocks 30 inches above the water unless the water was at least 4 feet deep.
Instead of changing the depth of the pool — which Gustavson said would require roughly $3 million — the school has plans to purchase a moveable wall, known as a bulkhead, that would allow the swimmers to launch from starting blocks at a deeper area of the pool, in the diving well. The moveable bulkhead would be positioned to allow six racing lanes in a direction perpendicular to the current racing lanes.
With the moveable bulkhead in place, the school would be able to host swim meets, invitationals and other events at the school, so the renovation plans also include the purchase of new starting blocks, a scoreboard and a timing system.
The Nebbish Society, a group of swim program supporters named after the team's mascot, is asking the community to contribute to the $200,000 renovation. For every dollar donated, an anonymous donor will donate an additional dollar, with a maximum total donation of $50,000. The North Shore Swim Club, which uses the pool, is also conducting a fundraiser.
The swim program has set an aggressive renovation schedule, with the hope of raising money by Feb. 29 and completing the upgrades before summer swim lessons and the start of the girls swim season in fall.
"We're trying not to impact the community use of the pool in the summer," Gustavson said.
The pool was closed last summer for a drainage project and repairs needed to comply with the Virginia Graeme Baker Act. Because the district was not notified of the new depth requirement until August, the two projects were not able to be done in conjunction with one another.
Gustavson said the upgrade would not only allow the school to host home swim meets, but it would also improve a long-standing community asset. He said the renovation to the high school football field has contributed to athletic successes at the school, and pool renovations could do the same.
"This pool was the top pool in the state when it was built in the late 60s, so we're looking to return it to that level," Gustavson said. "For what it's going to result in and the number of people impacted by it, this is a low-cost project, and it will allow us to host conference meets, sectional meets, our own meets and invitationals. It will invigorate the swim program in this community."
Gustavson said district funding might be available for the project, but to meet the timetable and finish the project before summer, he and the Nebbish Society decided to start raising funds now. Because he was not aware of the regulation change at the start of the district's budget process, he was not able to bring the issue to the School Board's attention in time. He said the renovations should be made before the next budget cycle begins this year for 2013.
Checks can be made out to School District of Whitefish Bay, with "Swimming Pool Renovation" in the memo. The checks can be sent to the Whitefish Bay School District Business Office, 1200 Fairmount Ave., Whitefish Bay, WI 53217.
This story was updated at 10 a.m. Monday to more accurately reflect the depth regulations set by the National Federation of High Schools.