By Aaron Gabriel//Contributor | Wednesday, September 11, 2019
The moment of truth for John Corrigan (pictured, right) came when his son came home from high school one afternoon and explained that his PE class couldn’t use the swimming pool because it was broken.
San Benito High School and the rapidly growing town of Hollister, California, a mostly rural community about 30 miles east of Monterey Bay, needed new pools. The discomfort was especially acute to the Corrigans, with four youngsters active in aquatics.
In John Corrigan’s case, this painful truth also spawned a dream, which was finally realized in early August. That’s when San Benito High School opened two new outdoor pools – an 8-lane, 50-meter world-class racing pool, along with an 8-lane, 25-yard vessel for teaching, training and general fitness.
But back to the dream phase for a moment, for that is where Sue and Mick Nelson made a big difference.
The husband-wife Nelson team first became familiar with San Benito’s plight in the fall of 2015, as part of a USA Swimming Build A Pool conference. Corrigan and San Benito Aquatics age group coach Jud Shutts traveled to Scottsdale, Arizona for a two-day introduction to the pool-building process.
That experience included plenty of quality time with Sue, USA Swimming’s Aquatic Programming Specialist, and Mick, USA Swimming’s Facilities Development Director. Joining them were experts from throughout the aquatics landscape.
“During that Build A Pool, we realized San Benito had something very important working in its favor,” Sue Nelson said. “They had someone who was willing and able to be an ambassador for their effort, and to make sacrifices in order to take the lead on the project.”
That would be Corrigan, who quickly synthesized what he’d learned at BAP and set off on his mission. His starting point pleased the Nelsons. Though the BAP format has evolved dramatically from its inception in 2004 as an annual event to its current six-conferences-per-year schedule, a consistent mantra has been that programming precedes design.
“We stay on top of the whole spectrum of aquatic programming, everything from Learn to Swim to Adult Fitness and everything in between,” Mick Nelson said. “We always want to share with the individuals in the room snippets of what we’ve learned, in hopes that they will seek out the details that will directly affect their own project. The whole idea is to try to engage our BAP folks in making the connections they’ll need.”
Corrigan invested a huge chunk of his own time in making and nurturing those connections. As the project lead, he encountered many twists and turns. The setbacks included a failed early attempt to gain city and county funding.
Subsequently, the school board also was skeptical – until Corrigan was urged to run for a spot on that same board. He won his race and eventually ended up chairing a bonding committee that gained community support for a plan that included not only the two pools but also a new softball field and an athletics stadium for the Haybalers.
A key feature in the pool design by Ken Moeller of Arch Pac Aquatics was a long, gently graded access ramp in the smaller pool for student-athletes with disabilities.
“That was really important to us,” Corrigan said. “For all of us, the goal was to meet all the needs of our growing community for a very long time.”
Included in that long-view planning were two more key choices: pools by Myrtha, and filtration by Neptune-Benson. Both of those entities are partners with USA Swimming, and for similarly sound reasons.
The Neptune-Benson Defender features a regenerative media filtering system which provides pristine water quality and saves significant operational dollars over the long haul.
Likewise, the lower maintenance costs for Myrtha pools were attractive to Corrigan. Widely known for its utility in high-visibility temporary above-ground settings such as the Olympic Trials and international championship meets, Myrtha’s laminated steel panel system also completely eliminates the need for expensive re-plastering, re-grouting and re-tiling.
“The hard part isn’t just building a pool,” Mick Nelson said. “The hard part is making choices that allow you to take stock when you’re eight years past the opening and still be on track at that point. What’s great about San Benito – Sue and I just look at each other and smile, because their choices show that they really listened and benefited from Build A Pool.”
Corrigan cites Myrtha’s Dave Doomey, who has a wealth of experience from a previous career as a California public school administrator, as being another key in the pool pursuit.
“I look at like I’m there to help the education process,” Doomey said. “Build A Pool is a big part of that same process, as are the lunch and learns we have with pool designers and architects.”
“USA Swimming’s effort with Build A Pool is really a linchpin for anybody thinking about a new pool. It’s the ideal building block.”
Doomey’s specific contribution with San Benito was in pointing out the advantages of a piggyback contract system specific to the California public school system which allowed for cost and production efficiencies for the entire project.
The first part of Corrigan’s vision became a reality when San Benito Aquatics hosted the Coast Valley Aquatic League championship meet Aug. 2-4. That generated plenty of dollars for local businesses, a pattern he hopes is repeated by hosting more large meets and water polo tournaments.
The high school pools at San Benito are the only public waters in the county. Therefore, community access will still be central to the long-term success of the pools.
Some of the details related to managing all the water availability remain fluid, but the big picture is in sharp focus for Corrigan. He expects the full gamut of aquatic opportunity to be readily available to Hollister and beyond.
“We want to be there for family swim, for lessons, for water polo and of course competitive swimming,” he said. “The idea is to be open early in the morning to the public, then let the high schools take over through the school day and then be open to the public again after school – until 9 or 10 at night, or for however late people will support the use.”
Ultimately, the payoff for Corrigan extends far beyond the new competitive swimming opportunities in his hometown.
It’s the fulfillment of precisely the kind of all-around aquatics dream Sue and Mick Nelson have been enabling through Build A Pool for the last 15-plus years.
“Someday soon,” Corrigan explained, “I’m going to be able to say, ‘See? Now everyone in this community knows how to swim.’ ”