If you’ve driven into Traverse City on Silver Lake Road this summer, you’ve seen the site of the new YMCA transformed from a hole in the ground into a sprawling complex, soon to be home to an aquatics center, health and fitness center, tennis courts and lounges.
This summer in Northern Michigan has also seen case after case that demonstrated why the new Y is so desperately needed in Northern Michigan -- too many people grow up around Traverse City and never learn how to swim, leading to senseless drownings.
The section that will house two pools, a competitive eight-lane pool and a training/ recreation pool, will be called the Robert C. Foster Aquatics Center because it was made possible by a $2 million gift from Rob and Phyllis Foster of Benzie County.
The Express talked to Lynn Schultz, chair of the Grand Traverse Bay YMCA board of directors, about the construction progress and the need for more swim lessons in TC.
Northern Express: It’s amazing how the site of the new Y has been transformed over the summer. A lot of work has taken place. Are you still on schedule to open in the spring? How close are you to setting a date?
Lynn Schultz: We are on schedule. We don’t have a final date right now. We hope that it’s in May of 2014, but we haven’t been given a final date yet by the construction manager. And, you know, those dates move. We’re going to build two pools, so there’s a lot of work to be done yet. The shell is there but they’re going to get inside and do the work from inside out.
Express: One of the reasons the aquatics center received so much support is because of a recognition that more young people in Northern Michigan need to have the chance to learn how to swim. Do you think there is a correlation between the lack of swim training and the inordinate number of drowning deaths we see in the area?
Schultz: Of course I think that. I think we have one pool in Traverse City, and it’s not enough to teach all of our kids to swim. We have water all around us, and our kids don’t know how to swim and they don’t know water safety. So that’s my love and my passion and why I joined the board. I recognized many years ago that this community needed another pool. This is not a pool to replace the Civic Center pool. Ideally we would have both of those pools available for us in the community.
Express: How achievable is the goal to get every kid from the five county region -- Antrim, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Kalkaska and Leelanau -- into swim lessons and to teach them to swim?
Schultz: It’s going to take a lot of cooperation from the school districts. It’s third graders that we’re trying to target. How achievable? I don’t think we have enough water to teach all of them, every third grader. I don’t think we have enough time and water, but we are going to make a huge difference.
Express: Are the schools on board with these plans? Has there been any reluctance or questions about how the programs would be funded?
Schultz: Right now there’s been a gift given to the Y to support the project for two years, so we hope to get it off the ground and continue it as the years go on. We are in talks with TCAPS. I don’t see the money being the biggest barrier. The barrier would be the time in their school day, how we can make that happen, getting them over there in buses. I can’t speak for the outlying communities because I haven’t had those conversations, but I’m sure that they see the devastation this community experiences every year with drownings. It’s a community responsibility. It’s a parents’ responsibility to have their kids learn how to swim. But if we can do it in a cooperative method, I think we’ll be more successful.
Express: Will there be times when the pool will be open to the public for adult lap swim?
Schultz: Oh yes. One of the things that I lobbied very hard for was to have an eightlane lap pool, and a non-swimmer might not know what that means. The Civic Center has a six lane pool. It’s two additional lanes and the pool can be split in a different way for programming and utilized more efficiently when you have eight lanes. Instead of swimming lengths of the pool, you can swim widths of the pool when you have an eight-lane pool. You can divide your pool into three sections and have three different things going on at the same time, including lap swimming.
Express: I know there is a lot of anticipation that the opening of the Y pool will open up some swimming lanes at the Civic Center pool. Do you anticipate the Y aquatic center will take some pressure off of the Civic Center pool?
Schultz: I hope it does, but I hope it doesn’t take so much off that they think it’s not needed. I would feel like we failed if that’s what happens here. We need two pools in this community. We have to have that to be successful. My children were competitive swimmers. They’re all grown now, they’re in their 20s. They did the age group swimming. And that’s what made this my passion, bringing another pool to Traverse City, because I was able to witness first-hand all of the deficiencies in the swimming community. For masters, for kids, for swim lessons, for training for the Coast Guard -- there’s only so much pool.
Express: I understand the Y already has a membership drive going. How are membership sales going and where do you hope to be when you open?
Schultz: What we need to be successful is 2,500 memberships, to keep it open. I would like to see membership between 2,500 and 3,500. It may be a lofty goal. Traditionally Ys do very well the first two years they’re open and then things kind of stabilize. That’s our goal. Between 2,500 and 3,500. We are at about 900 memberships right now. Maybe 800, I’m not positive on that number. So we’re talking about tripling our membership in the first year.