Demolition marks the era of good times

A single light shines in the natatorium that was built in 1967 on the Summerville campus. The Master Plan includes a tentative plan for demolition of the building within the next year. Credit: Shellie Smitley.
A single light shines in the natatorium that was built in 1967 on the Summerville campus of Augusta University. The Master Plan includes a tentative plan for demolition of the building within the next year. (Photo: Shellie Smitley)

By Shellie Smitley | Staff Writer

Soon to be a wrecking ball’s creation, the Summerville campus natatorium encases bygone echoes of splashing water, shouts of camaraderie and chlorinated poignancy like a cocoon waiting to release its fun-streaked memories.

Richard Harrison, former swim team coach, said he coached both men and women students in the pool from “1972 to about 1985.” He said the pool, one of only three indoor pools in Augusta at the time, had an aluminum liner. The pool was built in 1967.

“It was a beautiful pool, six lanes, 25 yards long, and (it met) NCAA specifications, so we had a NCAA swim team,” Harrison said.

Dave Freeman, director of facilities, said the pool was relined with a PVC liner in 1997.

“We started losing water,” Harrison said. “So I took a bottle of red dye and went down there and started squirting dye to see where it was going, and there were a lot of little pin holes in the bottom of the pool….and so… we actually put a liner in the pool and that lasted for a long time…”

Steve Zimmerman, facilities services manager, said the pool now has multiple problems including the piping, the lack of meeting certain American Disabilities Act requirements, no air conditioning installed and the electrical system is corroded.

“The outside, you can walk around, after 50 years of chlorine in the air, (it) took its toll,” Freeman said.

President Brooks Keel said the Master Plan includes a proposal to tear it down because the cost of renovating it would be “astronomical.”

Freeman said the tentative plan is to demolish the pool within the next year.

“It was just cost-prohibitive to pull everything out and fix it,” Harrison said. “It would have been well over a million dollars to fix that pool, and that is when they decided to go ahead and close it down (in 2007).”

Swimming was required by the Board of Regents for most students, including Keel, who was enrolled during the earlier years.

White Columns, 1973 Yearbook
A 1973 yearbook photo records the names of the men’s swim team members and a 13-1 record for the season. Credit: White Columns, 1973 Yearbook.

“I vaguely remember him (Keel) as a student,” Harrison said.  “There was a swimming requirement back then where everybody had to take a swim class.”

The pool was more than a requirement or an extra-curricular activity for the coach and his team members.

“It was our home away from home,” Harrison said.

Dennis Burau, a former assistant professor, said Harrison’s office “was in the pool.”

Prior to the Physical Plant taking care of the pool, the responsibility belonged, for a short time, to Harrison and Burau. Harrison said the chlorine system consisted of a “huge” chlorine tank in the filter room.

“We would turn it on when we thought we needed chlorine and turn it off when we thought we had enough,” Harrison said. “A lot of times we would turn it on and forget to turn it off. We would come in the next day and nobody could get near the pool…”

He said it was also he and Burau whom would sometimes forget to turn the water off after filling it.

“… We would come in the next day and the decks would be underwater on the inside of the building,” Harrison said. “We would have swim practice and we would have a new event. We would put our kickboards on the flooded deck, put two hands on the kickboard and then run around the deck in a race, like you were pushing a sled…we would make the best of the situation.”

Burau said that he could not confirm that either one of those incidences occurred.
George Christenberry, now deceased, was the president of the school when it was known as Augusta College. Christenberry was also a deacon at the First Baptist Church.

Harrison said with a mischievous tone that there was a “streaking” trend occurring on campus during that time.

“I’m afraid the swimmers led the way,” Harrison said. “…I did not know about that at the time…they closed our campus down one time (because of it)…A couple of guys on the swim team started it…”

Harrison said Keel “most certainly would” recall the streaking incidences.

“I am not accusing him of doing it, but he would know about it,” Harrison said.

Keel said although the streaking incidences occurred before he actually enrolled at Augusta College, he was aware of them.

Burau said he did not know who started it, but he knew some of the team’s members were involved.

“Oh I remember that,” he said laughing. “I got a call from the dean and he said ‘you need to come over to the campus, these people are running around campus naked and we need some help.’”

The pool was not just an edifice for pranks and blunders. Harrison said the team had a good time, but they were also good athletes with “excellent” grades.

Burau said he does not ever remember a female team member that had a bad grade and fondly described some of the guys on the team as “knuckleheads” that did alright.

“We had seasons like 13-0 and 12-1.  We beat Georgia Tech and Emory and Appalachian State,” Harrison said. “We beat a lot of different programs. We swam Clemson and competed well with them…”

Zimmerman said the pool was used by MCG students, staff and faculty for recreational purposes. He said his daughters, now grown, learned to swim in the pool.

Freeman said he took ROTC students, during 2002 and 2003, to the pool to practice water survival techniques.

Harrison said he will only miss the pool from a “nostalgic point” (of view). He said that the pool’s size is no longer practical for the increased population of the university.

He regrets that the university no longer has a swim team.

“I think it is a shame because it is not an expensive sport and it’s something (both) men and women can get involved with,” Harrison said.

Burau said that recalling the pool and the swim team conjures up memories that are “good” and “fun.”

With its yellowish glow and foreboding emptiness, the pool does not look like an era coming to an end. Freeman was insistent on its well-deserved demise when he said it has roof leaks that require garbage cans that have to be emptied periodically.

“If you walk around outside you can see the actual structure is deteriorating,” Freeman said. “And a matter of fact, we have a proposal to put a fence around it, just to keep everybody safe as they are walking.”

One light continues to glow from a restroom inside. The light is on but no one will ever again consider the pool their second home.

Contact Shellie Smitley at: sbarb@gru.edu.

Published on January 28, 2016 in Volume 58, Issue 5 of The Bell Ringer newspaper. 

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