Waterlogged in Columbia

July 01, 1994

The American author John Cheever wrote a short story about a restless suburban man who swims home one day. He gets from one part of town to his house by alternately walking and swimming whenever he comes across a neighbor's pool.

It wouldn't be too difficult for anyone in contemporary Columbia to attempt the same feat. Columbia, it seems, has a pool around every corner -- 21 outdoor neighborhood pools and two indoor pools, to be exact. The 23 swimming facilities could accommodate a city of 425,000 people, or roughly five times Columbia's population, according to the National Recreation and Parks Association.

Now comes Jamie LeGoff, an All-American swimmer and a Columbia Association swimming coach, with his plan to build yet another pool in the town.

His private, for-profit facility would be unique, he argues, by providing Howard County with a much-needed 50-meter pool. It would be used mainly to train young county residents for national and international competitions.

Mr. LeGoff says every existing pool in Columbia is 25 yards long and thus not conducive to the workouts required to turn the many good Howard County swimmers into great ones. He claims that if the county government would grant him a special zoning exception so he can build his $3 million pool at Cedar Lane and Harmel Drive, then he could enable local swimmers to practice closer to home and swim for county-based clubs rather than for clubs in neighboring jurisdictions that have 50-meter pools.

There appears no reason to doubt Mr. LeGoff's good intentions. Yet even CA aquatics director Dennis Mattey has stated that a scant 5 percent of the population would have any use for a 50-meter pool. As it is, 20 of Columbia's 21 outdoor pools operate under capacity and altogether lose about $1 million a year.

Given these facts, Howard swimmers in search of 50-meter pools will not be unduly inconvenienced by having to continue training in neighboring counties. Though not quite in Columbia's back yard, those places aren't exactly unreachable, either. Instead of granting a special exception for Mr. LeGoff's proposal, the county would do better to keep Columbia from adding to its lengthy roster of pools that are already under-swum.

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