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Year-round swim competition now possible at Oquirrh Park pool

Published January 19, 2012 12:40 pm

Oquirrh Park • $2 million partnership purchases a year-round cover for the Olympic-size pool in Kearns.
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One year ago, high-school swimmers wouldn't have considered an afternoon dip in the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center's Olympic-size pool — not with temperatures dropping below freezing.

Why? Because the pool was outdoors.

But times have changed. Thanks to a partnership between the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center and the Jordan School District, swimmers are spending their first winter in the pool beneath a $2 million soft shell.

That shell, which took about seven months to complete, was finished last July. And by September, high-school swimmers from Copper Hills, West Jordan and Kearns were in the water.

Coaches and swimmers consider the covered pool a vast improvement for wintertime swimming.

"We are the envy of the state for high-school and club swimming as far as facilities go," said Chris Horne, who has served as the head swim coach at Kearns High for 13 years and as the assistant water-polo coach for 21 years. "The lane space is awesome. It is really great to have all deep-water polo all year round as well."

Until this year, the Copper Hills and West Jordan swim teams trained at West Jordan Middle School, which contained the Jordan School District's last remaining pool. But district officials decided it was time to move. Even with paying half the cost of a new cover at the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, the district is expected to save millions in maintenance and repair costs.

Steven Dunham, spokesman for the Jordan School District, estimated that savings at $3 million over the life of the agreement. In the meantime, Copper Hills and West Jordan will have an Olympic-size pool to call home for the next 25 years.

It's an arrangement that works well for both sides. Brent Sheets, executive director of the Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, said his facility now can run its swim programs year-round. And the three high schools using the pool have the opportunity to train, in Sheets' words, in "a world-class facility" every day.

"We're really happy for how it's turned out," Sheets said. "It's been an outstanding partnership. It's a beautiful facility that's very comfortable and conducive for swimmers and spectators in the winter. And in the summer, you feel like you're outdoors but there's a cover over your head."

Darby Cowles, now in the middle of her second year as assistant swim coach at Copper Hills, says the new facility has enhanced the performance of her swimmers. She has been particularly impressed with the progress of her new athletes.

"They're shaving time off every meet," she said. "We're having a very good year for our region."

Although it has been a bit of an adjustment to share the pool, Cowles says it has been good for competition.

"It's good for the kids to be swimming at the same time as Kearns and West Jordan to give them a sneak peek, if you will, at which kids are swimming fast and who they need to beat," she said. "So, in a way, I think the facility definitely helps."