Dec. 7 2011 12:00 AM

LCC Board of Trustees decision on college’s pool looms; President Knight recommends “a substantial expenditure” to upgrade it or close it

Lansing Community College President
Brent Knight wants to go all-in on the college’s 35-year-old, six-lane
pool. That is, he wants to spend about $5 million to either completely
revamp the facility or convert it to something else.

Knight’s position on keeping or
repurposing the pool is in direct opposition to some LCC staff, faculty
and other pool supporters who suggest upgrades can be made in a
patchwork fashion for a couple hundred thousand dollars.

“The job of president for any college is
to think about the long-term issues and long-term needs of the
college,” Knight said last week in an interview. “And so I continue not
to think well of a patchwork (fix) because all I’m doing then — as they
often say — is kicking the can down the road. I don’t think well of
that in general. … I’m not inclined to do a get-by type of fix.”

Knight went on to call a wholesale
renovation of the pool “a major expenditure.” A pool study done in 2008
and 2009 said it would cost about $4.5 million to renovate everything
from drains and gutters to flooring and windows. Staff from LCC’s
Physical Fitness and Wellness Department countered with a price tag
less than $200,000 for necessary renovations. In April, department
personnel and administration officials sat down and compromised on a
$3.5 million project, to take place in two phases, but that scales back
some of the administration’s earlier plans. A Livonia-based consultant
has provided the estimates.

Knight’s recommendation is not a final
decision — that falls with the Board of Trustees. But supporters of the
patchwork fixes fear Knight’s position could mean the elimination of
the pool and, subsequently, the school’s aquatics program.

Linda Koning, chairwoman of the Physical
Fitness and Wellness Department, supports a patchwork approach because
she said a full-scale renovation would lead to canceled classes.
There’s no way it could be completely renovated without interfering
with aquatics courses, she said.

“We believe the pool is functioning safely,” she said. “We would really hate to see our classes not happening.”

Knight said a complete renovation “would
likely be debt incurred by the college, paid off over 15, 20 years,”
but that it “would have a minimal impact on tuition in any case.”

It’s unclear what the space would be
used for if the board votes to repurpose the facility. “Just like the
idea about how much it would cost, there are many ideas about what you
could do (if it wasn’t a pool),” Knight said.

Supporters of the patchwork plan are putting together a recommendation based on fundraising to help cover expenses, Koning said.

Knight said he doesn’t support “closing
the pool and boarding it up” in the meantime. He denied that closing
the pool would be the first step of reorganizing the entire Physical
Fitness and Wellness Department. “For me, this is about the swimming
pool. It’s nearing the end of its life.”

Knight said he will “hopefully” have his
full recommendation ready for the Board of Trustees to vote on in
January. Board Chairman Larry Meyer said the board has not reached a
decision on the issue and that it would be “inappropriate to comment”
at this point.

Knight said “an important statistic in the whole conversation” is how much the pool is actually used.

Pool staff report that about 478
swimmers use the pool each week, Ellen Jones, director of public
affairs for LCC, said in an e-mail.

Comparatively, the Parkwood YMCA
facility in East Lansing sees 125 unique swimmers a day, “more on
weekends or when we schedule a birthday party,” Jon Sporer, program
director at the Parkwood YMCA, said in an e-mail. The number grows by
50 to 75 during the summer, he added.

Other pools in the area include four
public pools run by the city of Lansing (two of which are open only
during summer), three YMCA facilities, three at Michigan State
University that are closed to the public during fall and spring
semesters and at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing, which is
open to residents and non-residents.

Evelyn Pech, who works at Lansing’s
Southside Community Center, said about 100 people use the pool a week
in winter months, while upward of 700 people use the city’s swimming
facilities per day during the summer. (That includes the outdoor pools
at Moores and Hunter parks. A fourth pool at the Beekman Center is used
for classes only, Pech said.) Figures from these other facilities could
not be obtained.

“We understand that the pool is 35 years
old and does need to be renovated. We also know that the pool is viable
for many years,” Koning said. “To shut it down I think would be