After three years of urging Yale to either build a new aquatic center or renovate its current natatorium, with almost a year and a half of concentrated talks to work with Yale administrators, a committee of Yale swimming alumni has reached an agreement with the University to add a new pool to Yale’s list of capital projects.
On March 28, President Salovey agreed to meet with three members of what the alumni involved have dubbed the Steering Committee to discuss the proposal the Committee had sent to Yale. In the meeting, John Bollier, Yale’s associate vice president of the Office of Facilities, presented the attendants with three separate proposals to renovate the Kiphuth Exhibition Pool. According to an email sent by the Steering Committee to other swimming alumni obtained by the News, the first proposal — which, at approximately $35 million was the cheapest of the three — was to build a new eight-lane pool and a small separate diving pool within the space of the Exhibition Pool. The second and third proposals both featured a 50-meter pool that would extend beyond the current back wall towards Lake Place. The latter two proposals differed in that the third proposal would feature an additional separate pool and diving space that would allow them to make the 50-meter pool a consistent depth.
Lisa Rapuano ’88, a member of the Steering Committee, said the alumni preferred the third proposal because separating the diving and swimming waters would make for a “faster pool.” She said the fastest pools for swimming have a standardized nine-foot depth, adding that although the ideal water temperature for swimming is 78 degrees Fahrenheit, the ideal temperature for competitive diving is 81 or 82 degrees.
“That might not sound like a big deal to non-swimmers, but the difference is huge to swimmers,” she said. “The additional increase in temperature by even a few degrees makes it feel like you’re swimming in a sauna.”
With this in mind, according to the Steering Committee’s email, Salovey and the other members of the meeting decided that “John Bollier’s first and second options did not constitute first class [facilities] and they were discarded.”
In the same letter, members of the Steering Committee estimated that the third proposal would cost roughly $47 million.
Still, Director of Athletics Tom Beckett said the University has not finalized a final project design or cost for the renovated pool.
“There will be a follow-up meeting later this spring to continue to review this project,” he said.
When the Steering Committee first requested a meeting with Salovey in a letter dated Nov. 6, the alumni said they had loose commitments for $20 million in donations — enough to build a new pool for the University on unused land near the Yale Bowl. Rapuano said the University emphasized in this meeting that only proposals to renovate or build a new pool in Payne Whitney would be considered viable. She added that although this would cost more money, it made sense for the University because they would not need to spend money maintaining both a pool elsewhere in New Haven and an unused pool in Payne Whitney.
Beckett said the effort to fund such a project will be an “all hands on deck commitment from the University, the alums and the friends and fans of Yale Swimming.” Rapuano said one of the biggest obstacles the Steering Committee has encountered has been raising the money independently. She added that given the small size of Yale’s swimming, diving and water polo alumni groups, it would have been very difficult for the group to raise over $40 million. This meeting with Salovey and other important administrators such as Joan O’Neill, University Vice President for Development, was a crucial indicator that the University endorses the alumni group’s vision, she said.
“The difference between the conversation we had previously and the conversation we’re having now seems to be that Yale and the Development Office [are] behind this and will support us,” she said. “The message we got previously was ‘You guys go raise the money and then do whatever you want.’ Now the project is collaborative and we have the University’s blessing.”
With the Development Office’s support in providing the alumni group with contacts and making initial phone calls, Rapuano said the Steering Committee will be able to tap a broader base of alumni to raise the necessary money.
Matthew Meade ’87, vice president of the Yale Swimming and Diving Association, said he has been involved with the team’s alumni activities since 1993. He added that the March meeting was the first time since that year that the president’s office and the representatives of the swimming and diving community have had a face-to-face meeting. Establishing a dialogue and a working relationship is crucial to implementing any successful initiatives at the University, Meade said.
Rapuano said the renovation or construction of a new pool has been long overdue in order to improve the competitiveness of the Yale swimming program and aid in the team’s recruiting efforts.
“The teams are suffering from both a recruiting and training perspective with the lack of a state-of-the-art facility,” Rapuano said. “[Other Ivies] have a significant advantage over us. It’s not like we’re saying Yale has to have the best pool in the world, it just has to be competitive with its rivals and we need to be able to host our own conference [championship].”
Although steeped in tradition, Yale’s Kiphuth Exhibition Pool is only 25 yards long and has only six lanes, meaning Yale is currently unable to host a championship meet.
Swimmer Danny Clarke ’14 said the current team is very hopeful about the possibility of a new pool. Still, he added that it was a privilege to swim in the Kiphuth Exhibition because it was one of the most historic pools in the world.
The Steering Committee has also spoken with contractors and the architecture firm, Pelli Clarke Pelli, to design the facility and has renderings of what it could look like.