Pools prove popular even in cold weather Swimmers find fun, exercise WEST COLUMBIA

December 30, 1992|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Staff Writer

The weather outside might be frightful, but inside the Columbia Swim Center it's, well, delightful. Water temperature in the center's two pools averages 83-84 degrees.

Even if the water were a little on the brisk side, it probably wouldn't deter swimmers from their appointed laps, say swim center managers.

"We open at 5:30 in the morning and by 5:45 there are people in the pool swimming their laps," says director John Herdson as he surveys a noisy claque of dripping kids lining up for an afternoon swim team practice.

Opened 25 years ago as one of the Columbia Association's first recreational facilities, the swim center is enjoying a high point in its popularity, Mr. Herdson says.

Save for about one hour in the mid-afternoon when the pools are closed for maintenance, the center bustles virtually nonstop from pre-dawn to closing around 10 p.m.

A testament to the center's popularity among Columbia residents came last year when the Columbia Council, which oversees the nonprofit Columbia Associations' management of the unincorporated city's recreational facilities and other services, proposed paring the Swim Center's budget by $75,000 by closing it during the summer.

About 50 swim center members turned out at council hearings to successfully fight the proposed budget cuts.

Located behind Slayton House in the Hickory Ridge Village Center, the Swim Center operates on a $702,000 budget. But that would rise about 6 percent to $746,000 under the proposed budget for fiscal 1994.

By far, the most popular programs at the center are its swimming lessons and youth swim team.

About 500 people are signed up currently for swim lessons, the majority of them parents and their young children.

As for the swim team, its one of the largest in the state and could grow easily if Mr. Herdson had some way of scheduling more practice time for the young swimmers without upsetting the many other groups competing for lap time.

Open slots on the center's 330-member team, which has eight age groups between 7 and 17, fill quickly. There's a waiting list of about 80.

"When we announce sign ups for either lessons or the swim team, there's a line of people waiting right out the door on registration day. It always amazes me," Mr. Herdson says.

The pressure for swim lessons has been relieved somewhat by the opening of the Supreme Sports Club, which has a lap pool, on the east side of Columbia, Mr. Herdson says.

Swim center team members get plenty of pool time. The gold group, swimmers aged 13 and older, practice daily. Other age groups practice two to three times a week.

When the swim center's team, the Clippers, sponsors a meet, it's held at Howard Community College's pool. The swim center doesn't have the space to accommodate a roaring crowd of enthusiastic parents, and putting on a meet would require closing one of the pools off to member use.

And that might start a riot.

"Without question the toughest problem I have right now is accommodating pool time and space to all the programs we have going," says Mr. Herdson, the center's director since 1988.

In recent years, the center has diversified its programs. Gone are the days when the best a swimmer could hope for was instruction that would improve stroke, kick and time.

Today, there are a host of offerings for the new swimmer and the experienced: water aerobics, deep water fitness class, geared for those with joint and other bone ailments, shallow water walking class, and senior swim class.

The center's busiest time usually is during weekday evenings when lap swimmers crowd the lanes and families pile in the doors for the family recreational swim hours, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

And then there are the hours when "splashdown," the swim center's enclosed water slide, is open on Friday nights and weekend afternoons. The slide includes two 360-foot tubes that send those with a little daring-do on a 10-second screaming barrel of fun.

"People just love the splashdown. It's really popular for kids' birthday parties. We're booked solid every single weekend with splashdown parties," Mr. Herdson says.

But adults take a quick liking to the water slide as well. Mr. Herdson recalls a Baltimore man who booked splashdown for a party last year.

"We were looking to close up and they were still in the pool. We couldn't get them off the thing," he says.

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