West Hartford’s summer swim team will be housed at Cornerstone Aquatics Center, allowing the outdoor pools extended hours, and a new diving program has been added.
By Ronni Newton
West Hartford’s summer swim team program is getting a major makeover this summer, with a consolidation of the four former outdoor pool teams into one team, the Cyclones, based at Cornerstone Aquatics Center.
The change was made in part due to residents’ requests to have more open swim time available at the outdoor pools as indicated during public outreach conducted over the winter. It was also fueled by an overall decline in the number of swim team members that made it impractical to close pools so that a small number of children could practice.
Michael Kerrigan, the general manager at Cornerstone and an employee of HealthFitness, which took over management of the Cornerstone operations last July, said that the Cyclones will compete against teams from other area towns.
“There were maybe a combined 120 kids at all four pools. The numbers had gone way down,” Kerrigan said of the former program. “We didn’t want to lose the swim team program.”
“Last winter we conducted an online aquatics survey, and received a robust response. By moving the rec teams to Cornerstone, we will be able to provide additional open swim times at the outdoor pools, which was requested multiple times in the online survey,” said Director of Leisure and Social Services Helen Rubino-Turco.
Leisure Services Manager Marc Blanchard said that in the survey, which solicited opinions about overall pool operations, one of the needs most often mentioned was a desire for more recreational swim time.
Holding swim team practice necessitated closing each outdoor pool from 4:30-5:45 p.m. on weekdays. The pools would reopen at 6 p.m. for night swimming. Pools were closed on Saturdays through noon for meets. This year the pools will remain open straight through until 7:45 p.m., and will open at 11 a.m. on weekends.
In its heyday, the summer swim team program attracted 264 swimmers. The Fernridge Park team would always max out at 75 members, said Blanchard. But over the past decade the numbers declined dramatically.
“Last year there were 122 swimmers. It’s hard to justify closing the facility for public use,” Blanchard said. Those swimmers were not evenly distributed and some of the pools really had dwindling numbers.
“We felt like maybe [HealthFitness] could develop a program like swim teams in other towns,” said Blanchard. And that would also keep the pools from having to close during a time when many people indicated they wanted to use them for recreational purposes.
The decision to change the summer swim program was not made lightly. “As times change, you have to take a microscope to your operations,” Blanchard said. “We labored over it for a long time.”
Blanchard is aware that not everyone is in favor of the change, but in making the decision Leisure Services was looking to maximize use the town’s facilities. “While it is a different makeup for the team, it does open up a lot more time for the pools to be maximized for their use by families, by people wanting to swim right after work,” Blanchard said.
“We expect that Cornerstone’s summer swimming program will provide amazing opportunities for children to learn skills and compete as individuals and as part of a team,” Rubin-Turco said.
The professional staff will be able to provide a high level of instruction to swimmers at multiple levels, to help the swimmers develop. The teams at the outdoor pools were primarily coached by older kids.
Another benefit of moving the team to Cornerstone is eliminating the havoc that rain or thunderstorms can wreak on the schedule. Using an indoor aquatics center eliminates that volatility, Blanchard said.
There are still plans to encourage the neighborhood feel and camaraderie of the summer swim team program. Kerrigan said that coaches will run free stroke clinics at each of the outdoor pools for swim team members.
In addition, Blanchard said that discussions are underway to host one or two of the summer meets at an outdoor pool rather than indoors at Cornerstone.
Swim lessons will continue to be offered at the outdoor pools in the same format as in the past, and Cornerstone offers lessons as well, using the American Red Cross program.
Full membership at Cornerstone also provides access to any of the outdoor pools.
Cornerstone is also now offering a diving program, something that has not previously been available at the facility. The diving program is open to children ages 8 and up, and is being coached by former Bulkeley High School standout diver Luis DeJesus.
Cornerstone is also offering aquatics camps for the first time this summer, for kids ages 3-14. “We’re looking to teach some swim skills and some water safety skills, but aqua fitness is the theme of all of them,” Kerrigan said. Two sessions of the week-long camps, which are two hours each, will be held during the summer. Times vary based on ages.
Kerrigan said that things are going “really, really well” since HealthFitness took over management of Cornerstone last summer. “Members are happy with the changes we’ve made,” he said, including the addition of family changing areas, a facelift for the lobby, and improvements to the member service area and multipurpose room.
The switch to the American Red Cross swim lesson program has been well-received, Kerrigan said. This year Cornerstone has also had the opportunity to host more swim meets, both regional and statewide events.
The Town of West Hartford’s four outdoor pools open for the season on June 23. Splash pads open for the season on Saturday, May 26.
For more information about summer swim team and pool hours, as well as programs offered at Cornerstone Aquatics Center, visit the Leisure Services page of the Town of West Hartford website.
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