Lap swimmers - those dedicated athletes who plunge into the waters for regular exercise - could be considered the backbone of the Columbia Association's aquatics.
But they can get shoved out of their regular time for indoor pool laps for organized swim programs such as swim team practice or water aerobics.
"Generally, lap swimmers feel like they're being pushed out of the pool," said Tony Mazzarella, chairman of the CA's aquatic's advisory committee, which constantly hears lap swimmers complain about needing more pool time.
The short-term answer, Mazzarella said, is to seasonally enclose one of the CA's 23 outdoor pools, a proposal the association board will be considering during its budget workshop later this month.
The association board will be looking at the possibility of placing a fabric bubble over the Stevens Forest pool in Oakland Mills during the fall and winter, primarily to accommodate the town's swim team, which would free up pool time for other users.
The estimated $626,000 capital project would add eight lanes for swimming in nonsummer months.
The association has four indoor pools, two at the Swim Center and one each at the Supreme Sports Club and the Columbia Gym.
Placing a bubble over the Stevens Forest pool seems to be the "best and cheapest" way to alleviate the competition for time at the indoor pools, said Robert D. Bellamy, the association's operations manager for the sport and fitness facilities divisions.
The pool could gain the association about $33,400 or lose up to $135,000 a year, based on varying estimates and accounting allocations.
"The question the board of directors is going to have to grapple with is, is that an expense ... they want to undertake?" Bellamy said.
Bellamy was not definite on the earliest the bubble would be erected should the board include the project in the association's capital budget, which the board should approve in February. But he said it wouldn't be unreasonable for it to be in place by next fall.
More indoor lanes would allow the 330-member Columbia Clippers youth swim team - which has had a waiting list of 50 to 100 for many years - to expand its membership, Mazzarella said. The pool space could also possibly support a high school swimming program that parents and children are urging Howard County school officials to start next year, he said.
Adding more indoor pool space would also help the association address the needs of Columbia's aging community, Bellamy said. The association is also adding a hot water therapy pool at the Athletic Club, a $1.3 million project that is slated to be done by January.
The Stevens Forest pool was selected for enclosure because it has eight lanes, ample parking and storage space to put the covering during the summer, Bellamy said. The bubble would probably be placed over the pool from September to May, he said.
Karen Gray, vice chairwoman of the Oakland Mills Village Board, said the board supports covering the pool.
"It might conceivably attract more people to the village area," she said. "And the people who are right in the village would have another wonderful amenity to use."
But placing a bubble over a pool is only a temporary fix, Mazzarella said. To accommodate the needs for swimming year-round, the association is going to eventually build another indoor swimming facility, he said.
"Ultimately, the community is going to have to bite the bullet and take on replacing the Swim Center," Mazzarella said.
In 2002, the Columbia Association renovated the Swim Center, which houses two 25-yard pools in Wilde Lake. The $2.7 million project included new roofs, lighting, ceiling and floor tiles, paint, bathroom accessories, locker room floor drains and a front desk.
Mazzarella pointed out those were "structural renovations" that did nothing to add swimming capacity.
"The community needs more capacity, particularly indoor," he said. "That's what we constantly hear. We're like a broken record on the subject."