HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County)–“Save the pool, save the pool!” echoed across the quad on Wednesday from a bullhorn and the mouths of about 40 students in protest of Centenary University’s decision to close their 4 lane, 25-yard pool, officially know as the George J. Ferry Natatorium.
“The administration says that the students don’t want the pool, and so we’re standing out here to say that we do,” said Alec Donovan, a junior at Centenary, captain of the wrestling team, president of an anti-bullying club on campus, and an organizer of Wednesday’s protest. “We do utilize it, not just the students athletes but all the students here.”
The pool, which was built in 1961, has sat empty since March 31st, surrounded by yellow caution tape. In years past, the pool hosted water aerobics for senior citizens, swim lessons for young kids, and practice sessions for various highschool swim teams as well as the Seadragons, a private youth swimming club team that has called the pool home since 1999.
“We’ve reached out to the Hackettstown community, we’re continuing to have good relationships with them,” said University President, Rosalind Reichard. “But it certainly impacted individuals. We try to moderate negative impacts, but you can’t moderate everything.”
The Hackettstown High School swim team used to swim at the Centenary pool at no cost, in exchange for allowing the Centenary lacrosse team to practice at Morrison field. Bobby Grauso, Athletic Director at Hackettstown, said that the swim team will now practice at the Tranquility Valley Retreat Center on route 517 in Andover, and meets will be held at Kittatinny Regional High School. The facility cost for Tranquility Valley will be added to the school’s budget next year, according to Grauso. West Morris Regional High School swim team and the Seadragons also will reportedly practice at Tranquility Valley next year.
Centenary announced their decision to close the pool last June. Initial reports from the administration indicated that the pool would close in August 2018. Following a considerable outcry from the community, however, including a phone campaign targeting then-university president, David Haney, the official closing date was set for after the end of the 2019 high school swim season.
According to a June 2018 press release from the University, they reached their decision to close the pool based on 3 main factors, copied below.
- “Space: Centenary University students have expressed the desire for additional recreational space. The University will use the space occupied by the pool to grow its intercollegiate athletic and recreational sports programs. This is part of an ongoing initiative to add new academic programs and facilities to better meet the needs of students enrolled at Centenary University.
- Pool attendance: Over the past several years, pool attendance has decreased significantly among Centenary University students and Hackettstown residents, who were invited to use the pool for recreational programs.
- Operating costs: While attendance has decreased, the University must still financially support the pool, which currently operates at a net cost of approximately $150,000 annually for maintenance and salaries. After the pool closes, student lifeguards will be invited to transfer to other jobs on campus.”
“It was something that I thought deeply about, I really did take a look at the information [the wrestling team] gave me, ways to increase the revenue, ideas about how we could do more work to promote the pool. I analyzed it a lot. Ultimately I made the decision to continue with the pool being closed,” said Reichard, who recently met with members of the wrestling team to discuss the pool. “In terms of protest, I don’t think it’s terribly effective, but I certainly respect it. Again, as long as they’re respectful of people on campus.”
The press release also said that the pool does not meet NCAA standards for intercollegiate competition, which would make it impossible for the University to start a swim team. However, that assertion was contradicted by a former swim team coach and collegiate swimmer familiar with NCAA pool standards.
Alec Donovan, the protest organizer, said that he thinks students should have been given more say in the decision to close the pool. The wrestling team regularly used the pool for workouts because swimming is low-impact cardio exercise. Donovan said that workouts in the pool helped him recover after he suffered a broken ankle from wrestling.
“If I didn’t have access to the pool, it would’ve taken probably another 3 weeks for my ankle to heal, according to the doctors,” Donovan said.
The future of the building that houses the pool is still unknown. Reichard told RNJ that one of the concerns she’s heard already is the lack of space in the weight room. Whatever decision is made, she said, will certainly involve construction costs.
“What we are going to do this summer is fill in the pool and put down flooring that will allow people to use that space, that’s about it,” said Reichard. “We’re also going to be talking with a lot of different student groups about what we might put in there. No decisions have been made.”
Anthony Preziosi contributed to this report