ULM students, community hear proposals for natatorium
The News Star | www.thenewsstar.com
October 17, 2011
Written by Sarah Eddington
ABOVE: Nicholas Middleton, CEO of Cube 3 Studio, offers one plan for the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s natatorium at a public forum on the ULM campus on Monday. TOP: Otis Peterson, Kyle Bullitt and George May attend the forum to discuss the future of ULM’s natatorium. / Margaret Croft/The News-Star
Nearly 200 community members and students gathered at the University of Louisiana at Monroe on Monday evening to hear three potential options for the future of the Lake C. Oxford Natatorium.
The options presented at the public forum ranged from renovating the pool into a highly community-friendly facility to one that would cater entirely to students.
Chris Pealer, executive director of the YMCA of Northeast Louisiana, presented the first option, which would keep the natatorium’s Olympic-sized pool while altering the diving well area and adding new features.
“The natatorium is a unique asset to the campus and the community,” Pealer said. “It is the only enclosed aquatic facility of its size in this area.”
The YMCA’s proposal suggests removing the diving well and replacing it with a recreational pool equipped with a lazy river, alongside a wellness/therapy pool to be used for rehabilitation. Other features include adding a slide, a cabana and sun deck furniture for tanning in addition to a walkway leading to the bayou for access to water recreation.
The proposal would also add a smaller outdoor pool adjacent to the facility.
Pealer said collaboration between the YMCA and ULM’s natatorium would also create other opportunities for the university, including the addition of new diet and activity initiatives, new water sports programs, student employment and off campus recreation opportunities.
“Having the YMCA come onto campus would add another element to the quality of life,” he said. “We would bring things we are known for around the country.”
Pealer suggested the facility would be maintained by an advisory board made up of campus and community representatives.
He said the overall estimated cost of the YMCA’s proposal would be $2.8 million, which could be funded by a combination of student fees, selling of bonds and community memberships.
He added that the community could sponsor a reserve fund for maintaining the facility.
“This would serve everyone and meet the needs of everyone who has an interest in this facility,” he said.
The two other options for the natatorium were presented by Nicholas Middleton, CEO of Cube 3 Studio and the same architect who designed Bayou Park and ULM’s housing improvements.
Middleton’s first proposal involved renovating the existing natatorium into a student life center, which could include recreational attractions like a movie theater, a game area and a café. The pool would be removed entirely.
He said the renovation would turn the space into a “destination location” on campus.
Middleton’s second proposal would be to construct an entirely outdoor 42,000-square-foot lazy river recreational pool on Bayou Park. The pool would include a sun deck, a hot tub area, a cabana and a dock for kayaks and canoes to enter the bayou.
“Pools on campuses throughout the United States are changing,” he said. “Students are wanting a fun environment to basically go to for recreation. They are not necessarily looking for the lap pools in today’s world.”
The proposal also includes building an amphitheater alongside the pool.
Middleton was unable to provide cost estimates on his proposals and said the outdoor pool would take nine months to construct and would also be heated.
Much debate has surrounded the issue of the natatorium’s future since it was announced this summer that it would be temporarily closed in order to assess its condition and explore ways it can be used to better serve the community.
University officials said the natatorium, built in 1976, requires repairs that are expected to cost as much as $2 million, and surveys show low use among students.
After receiving negative reaction from community groups, former students and individuals, some who have used the natatorium for decades, the student body agreed in August to keep the natatorium open for the fall semester while it determines what to do with the facility.
While some community members at the public forum took the opportunity to voice their concerns about the facility’s future, ULM President Nick Bruno reminded them that because the natatorium is funded by student fees, the final decision will ultimately be up to the students.
“(The money to renovate the facility) has to be through student fees or student assessments, which is why we are at the point we are today,” he said.
If the students decide not to renovate the natatorium, Bruno said a partnership could still be made between the university and a non-profit organization interested in keeping the facility open.
“If the community wants to retain the natatorium, and if the students decide not to renovate it, we are open to a partnership there that will allow you to find someone … that will take over the natatorium and its operations,” he said.
Brooke Dugas, Student Government Association president, said final drafts and cost estimates for each proposal will be presented to the students in the coming months and that after some evaluation, a vote will take place.
Dugas said the students would continue to try and work to meet the needs of both the community and student body.