COMMENTARY: Vashon needs another covered pool, both for swim team and island-wide events

Karl Stetson. (Courtesy Photo)

I recently attended a Vashon Park District meeting to discuss a proposal to cover the Vashon Pool from October to May and would like to share some collective thoughts and experiences related to this project.

I grew up in Montana where my dad was an aquatics director, swim coach, pool builder and manager. He worked with communities and schools on aquatics projects and certified pool operators across the state. I spent my entire youth watching and participating in programs that my dad developed. These experiences have shown me first-hand that a pool is something that can truly bring people of all ages together to promote health and well-being.

I was inspired by an enthusiastic crowd of adults and kids that attended the Vashon Park District (VPD) meeting on Feb. 28 to share their views. I’ve also had many conversations with island residents over the past year about the possibility of covering the pool.

The bottom line is that island residents of all ages would benefit from year-round access to the pool — bringing the community together for public, family and open swims; lessons and exercise classes for kids and adults; lap swimming; water polo; swim meets for all ages; events such as floating movie nights, swim-a-thons, Special Olympics; and water safety and lifeguard certification classes.

All of the schools on the island would have the opportunity to make swimming part of their curriculum. I have spoken to a number of people who have participated in programs like this and all the feedback was positive. Vashon High School would have the opportunity to establish swimming and water polo teams, which could, in turn, give students opportunities for college scholarships.

Due to the size of the Vashon Athletic Club pool, space is limited from October to May, and the Seals Swim Team consistently has a waiting list. Parents often comment that they have kids or know of kids that would like to join the team and aren’t able to. There is also a robust community of adult lap and masters swimmers on the island that want to swim during the winter months.

So why do we need the bubble over the pool? For all the reasons given above, as well as the following: A regulation-sized pool is 25 yards long and has at least six or seven lanes. While the Vashon Athletic Club serves some of the aquatic needs in the community, it is as a private entity with a small pool that is only 20 yards long and has three lanes. While it is a very much appreciated resource for the community, it cannot realistically meet the demand from an access, program availability, size and cost perspective.

Two covered pools will benefit the island as a whole, working in tandem to serve the needs of the community. The more people who have access to swim time, the better — we live on an island after all.

Like other projects that have taken shape on the island over the years, there appears to be a consensus that the community will rally around a covered pool and make full use of it.

Many people that I’ve spoken with point to the success of the Vashon Center for the Arts and the fact that they were able to raise more than $10 million to supplement Kay White’s donation and finish the project. The collective feeling is that we can surely raise not only the private funds to purchase the bubble, but to also help defer the operating costs — all of which would be less than 1 percent of what was raised for the VCA.

VPD has been successful in working with the community to build programs that benefit the island. Take, for example, Vashon Island Soccer Club’s futsal program that started with 30 participants and within a year grew to over 150.

The citizens group proposing the pool cover has really done its homework and put a tremendous amount of time, research and passion into the project. Like many, I am happy and hopeful to see the Vashon Park District engaged in dialogue with the community.

What so many of us love about Vashon is our independent spirit, the way we collaborate for the greater good and our commitment to inclusion and community building. I am one person among many that truly believe that if approved, this is an investment in the community that will benefit so many people.

— Karl Stetson is an island resident, a parent of a Vashon Seals swimmer and a volunteer coach.