After a year of buildup, Barnard officially closed its indoor pool over the summer, setting the stage for major campus renovations over the next few years.
The pool was drained and decommissioned to create temporary office space for faculty and staff currently housed in Lehman Hall, which will be torn down and replaced with a new academic building and library. That move won't begin until 2015 at the earliest.
Barnard is in “the early planning stages” for the construction of the new 11-story building, Greg Brown, Barnard’s chief operating officer, said in an email. The college plans to form several planning committees for the Lehman project, which will include student representatives.
“Once an architect is selected for the overall project, and the work is fully scoped out, we will develop a timeline for the construction project,” he said.
Administrators announced their plans to close the pool in April 2012, and last fall a small student group, Save The Barnard Pool, lobbied them to change course. The group argued that the pool was an important recreational space for the local community and a source of jobs for student lifeguards, and—most importantly—that its women-only hours were necessary for the comfort of religious students, particularly Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu students.
But with Barnard in need of temporary office space during the planned construction, student protests never gained traction among administrators.
“We looked into finding an alternative women-only swimming space but found that there was relatively little interest in it from the student body, particularly if it was off-campus," Brown said. "If there was significant demand, we could look into it again."
Columbia's Uris Pool has no plans to host women-only hours. Erich Ely, the associate athletics director for facilities operations at Columbia’s Dodge Fitness Center, noted that in addition to serving students, faculty, and staff, Uris is used by two varsity swimming and diving programs, intramural sports, physical education classes, fitness classes, and neighborhood programs.
“While we understand and appreciate that this is a sensitive issue for some members of our community, our pool is scheduled to capacity this school year,” Ely said.
Another unique feature of Barnard's pool was its shallow depth. Jim Bolster, the head coach of the men’s swim team, always taught Columbia beginner’s swim classes at Barnard’s pool.
Bolster said the switch to Uris, which is much deeper, will be difficult for students who get anxious in the water. To compensate, he is introducing portable underwater platforms for students to stand on, since the pool’s shallowest depth, 5 ft. 6 in., is deeper than some students are tall. Barnard’s pool, by comparison, had a shallow end with water at waist height.
“Some will be holding onto the wall for dear life,” Bolster said.
While in the past his classes had upward of 20 students, he said he’d only be comfortable teaching at Uris Pool with 12 to 15 students in a class.
“It’s definitely going to be hard to map the right strategy for some of these kids,” he said. “I’m not really worried about it one way or another. I’m ready for all of the possible effects it will have, and we’re prepared to handle it.”