The athletic department closed the third floor practice pool in Payne Whitney Gymnasium on Friday in response to concerns about the deteriorating condition of the facility.
Members of the men’s and women’s varsity swim teams said they are concerned that high levels of chemicals in the pool water and insufficient air circulation may be adversely affecting their health. With no definite timeline on when the pool will reopen, swim team members and other pool users have said that the closure inconveniences all swimmers and have forced the suspension of Yale’s community swim lessons program.
Swim team members said the team had been pushing for the pool’s environmental safety to be addressed because of the respiratory problems they have experienced in the last few years.
“This happened by chance, after years and years of unhealthy conditions,” women’s swim team captain Meg Gill ’07 said of the closing.
Hugh Sullivan ’08 said he quit the swim team two years ago when practicing in the upstairs pool exacerbated his asthma. After recovering from a serious case of pneumonia, Sullivan said, he found it more difficult than ever to practice on the third floor because he frequently experienced chest problems. Gill said that many of her teammates have started using inhalers, even though they do not have asthma, to alleviate breathing problems. Other swimmers have also developed sinus infections and bronchitis as well as violent coughing fits, she said.
According to administrators and students, there are two main problems with the facility — poor air circulation and high levels of a chemical called chloramine, which affects breathing.
Swimmer Brendan Woo ’08, who said he began independently testing the pool’s water last Monday, said chloramine is the combination of free chlorine and organic compounds such as human sweat. He described the chemical as “used-up chlorine” that causes the pungent odor of any indoor aquatic setting. Though Woo said he began his tests with no knowledge of the Athletic Department’s plans to close the pool, he said his findings about high level of chloramine have helped to identify the pool’s problems.
“Chloramines accumulate on the surface, and our swimmers breathe on the surface,” head coach Frank Keefe said, pointing to the swimmers practicing in the exhibition pool on Monday. “And breathing is a necessity for them.”
The other main problem recognized by the swimmers and those in charge of the facility is the lack of air circulation. Woo said the room’s current ventilation system consists of opening the windows.
Larry Matthews, senior associate director of sport and recreation for the athletics department, said the athletic department took “steps in the right direction” last spring by installing new fans. While the equipment increased the exchange of air, he said, the fans have not fully solved the problems, which are affected by humidity levels, the number of people in the pool and whether or not the swimmers have showered.
Matthews said he met with other officials in the athletic department, including Athletics Director Tom Beckett, to push to improve the pool’s conditions.
Athletic department administrators said that since the Oct. 27 closing, the department has met with representatives from Yale’s physical plant, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, and the private company that takes care of pool filtration to address the conditions of the pool. There is no timeline in place for when the facility will reopen.
While the decision to close the pool was imperative for health and safety reasons, swim team members said, the loss of a large practice space has inconvenienced both the varsity athletes and the other programs that utilized the pool.
The men’s and women’s varsity teams now practice in the exhibition pool in the basement of Payne Whitney. While the air circulation in the room is an improvement, men’s varsity swim team captain Geof Zann ’07 said, the varsity swim teams have only been able to use an area a third the size of their original practice space. As a result, the Bulldogs, who used to practice from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in three groups — sprints, strokes, and distance — have had to change their schedules, he said. The men’s and women’s teams now practice separately in afternoon and evening shifts, in addition to holding morning practices. The exhibition pool must now host the swim team as well as the divers and other teams that used to cross-train in the practice pool, he said.
The new schedules have posed problems for swimmers, Gill said. The Elis complete a minimum of eight workouts every week, and the changes to practice times now inconvenience members of the team who have commitments later in the evening, swimmers said.
Gill said that while the closing of the upstairs practice pool has put strain on Yale’s varsity swim teams, they will be prepared for their Ivy opener at home on Nov. 10, which will be held in the exhibition pool. Zann said he agreed that the pool situation would not affect their season.
“Our team is too strong for something like this to hurt us,” Zann said.
Those who are not part of the Yale varsity athletics program have not had the option of relocating, said Fox Kral, a child and adult swim instructor. Many club and recreational organizations that use the pool facilities at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, such as the community swim lessons program, have had to suspend their activities indefinitely, he said.
“We are on top of it, and we are addressing it,” said Matthews. “But it’s a very complicated issue.”