Glen Ellyn advocates' push for indoor pool starts to kick
Glen Ellyn swimming enthusiasts' efforts to bring a year-round indoor pool to town have taken a dive for decades, but recently talk of such a facility has at least started to tread water.
A grass-roots community group called the Glen Ellyn Aquatics Initiative formed late last year in hopes of galvanizing support for an indoor pool from neighbors, elected officials and potential donors. Months later, group members raised the necessary $20,000 to pay for a park district feasibility study that will explore the potential for an indoor pool in the village.
"It's the first substantial effort in many years," said Rob Pieper, one of the organizers of the aquatics initiative, whose nine-member board includes parents of those involved in local youth park district and high school swimming programs. "There's been no formal group to really get behind until now. Many of us are sick of complaining about this, (so we said) let's try to make something of it and get some answers we need in order to build the case for a pool."
Pieper, an 11-year Glen Ellyn resident, said those who have supported the case for an indoor pool have run into roadblocks for years. It was through the local competitive swimming community that they decided to form a group and try to accomplish something together they haven't been able to do on their own.
Advocates of an indoor pool say it would provide recreational opportunities for all residents throughout the year. It also would keep swimmers from the Glenbard South/West boys and girls cooperative swim teams from having to drive to pools in Naperville or Oakbrook Terrace to practice.
"This is about year-round fitness, recreation and sport for the residents -- and not just 'we need a place for our high school swimmers,' " Pieper said. "It's where we need the conversation to stay. It is an important facility for the needs of everybody, from the youngest infant and child up to seniors in our community."
Where to swim?
Pieper says Glen Ellyn long has sat in an "aquatics desert," where the next closest public indoor pool is in Elmhurst.
Now, only the Glen Ellyn Park District's Sunset Pool is available for public use during the summer. Opened in 1941, the outdoor pool was renovated in the 1970s and again in 1994, and a separate lap pool was added in 2000.
College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn is undergoing renovations of its indoor swimming pool as part of a $24 million renovation of the Physical Education Center scheduled for completion next year. When reopened, the pool will host aquatic classes and be available for open swim by community members who purchase a membership, college officials said.
B.R. Ryall YMCA and HealthTrack Sports Wellness operate private pools in Glen Ellyn that are open to members. Nearby, the private Wheaton Sports Center also has an indoor pool.
Pieper said those pools either aren't large enough to accommodate high school programs or are outdated facilities. That's why he and other members of the aquatics group are hopeful the Glen Ellyn Park District will take on the responsibility of running an indoor pool, just like the nearby Carol Stream Park District, which is opening a pool inside its new recreation center this week.
Funding the vision
Glen Ellyn Park District Executive Director Dave Harris said there's been interest in building an indoor pool in town for about 25 years, but most often the answer pool advocates have been given is that it's too expensive.
The answer may be the same today, but Harris said the park district will give serious consideration to the request. That's why it's fully behind the feasibility study, which will determine possible locations of a pool, features, programs, costs and maintenance of the facility.
"We recognize there's a big demand and a very enthusiastic, loyal and dedicated group," Harris said. "With that, we thought let's really determine how much an indoor pool is, what components should it have, and figure out if it's worth pursuing the next steps."
The aquatics initiative board started fundraising in May to pay for the feasibility study, but it wasn't until members of the Glen Ellyn Gators youth swim program got involved that the effort really took off.
In just two weeks in July, about 100 members of the program ages 6 to 18 raised the remaining money that was needed. They hosted a Swimathon event at Sunset Pool in which they made good on promises to swim laps in exchange for pledged donations.
"It's remarkable this group was able to mobilize and raise money for something that's not brick and mortar -- it's a study," Harris said. "I think that's a pretty good indication there are some people who are interested."
Discussions of a possible indoor pool in Glen Ellyn have come and gone throughout the years. A referendum question to build a pool at Glenbard West failed several decades ago. Plans to include a pool with a field house addition at the school in the late 1990s never came to fruition.
Pool supporters thought they had their chance when the park district's Ackerman Sports and Fitness Center was proposed, but indoor soccer turf was deemed to be a more affordable option.
Many are hopeful, however, that a pool addition could be made to Ackerman.
Time to study
While the aquatics group is fully funding the feasibility study, the park district has done much of the administrative work in finding a consultant, including sending out a request for proposals and conducting interviews with firms.
Last month, the park board voted unanimously to hire Isaac Sports Group, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based firm, to conduct the study. Its work is expected to be complete by December.
The park district is paying the consultant a separate $5,000 to conduct an analysis of Sunset Pool facility and operations.
Even though park district commissioners gave their support to the feasibility study, some cautioned that not everyone in the community may be on board with paying for an indoor pool that by some estimates could cost upward of $5 million.
Commissioner Kathy Cornell said a large part of the work of a consultant hired to do a master plan for Lake Ellyn Park was reaching out to the public to get their "thoughts and ideas and reservations and enthusiasm ... so people didn't think something had been done to them, rather than with them."
"I think it's important to be transparent with the community and invite as much input as we can get," Cornell said.
A 2012 park district community attitude and interest survey found 38 percent to be in favor of an indoor swimming/leisure pool facility. In a separate question, 59 percent of respondents said their indoor swimming pool needs weren't being met.
Harris said all funding options for a possible indoor pool are on the table, from a park district ballot referendum requiring voter approval to raise taxes for a pool, to the aquatics group raising funds from private sources.
Pieper said a pool would likely require both public and private dollars to be built.
In his perfect world, he said he'd like to see a pool built in the next three years.