New operators of Mary Wayte Pool jump right in

John Walker and Alice Godfred are two of the coaches with Olympic Cascade Aquatics, the organization that has taken over the operation of Mary Wayte Pool. - Megan Managan/Mercer Island Reporter
John Walker and Alice Godfred are two of the coaches with Olympic Cascade Aquatics, the organization that has taken over the operation of Mary Wayte Pool.
— image credit: Megan Managan/Mercer Island Reporter

Just last week Mary Wayte Pool switched from being operated by Northwest Center to Olympic Cascade Aquatics (OCA), a local group of swimming coaches and enthusiasts.

To those who have used the pool in the last week, seemingly little has changed. But, as OCA head coach John Walker said, much of the changes at the moment are behind the scenes.

OCA has long had connections on the Island, coaching and holding practices at a variety of pools in the area, but jumped in to operate the pool after Northwest Center said it would be no longer be able to operate the pool last fall.

“On a very short time scale, the community was faced with a pretty significant problem in aquatics, not just competitive and not just sports, but the whole community,” said Walker. “We’re real involved in that. It’s amazing the size of the aquatics community on Mercer Island. Our connections to that are significant. We saw the resources here and thought we could help with the solution to the problem. The city and the school district were very creative and stepped forward in a very short period of time; all this happened pretty quickly. Really, I think everyone’s happy the pool is open, and that was our primary goal.”

One of the biggest concerns about the pool was the repairs needed. The almost 40-year-old pool is in need of several major repairs, including coming into compliance with several ADA codes, as well as a federal act.

The repairs include redoing a bathroom, and meeting the Virginia Graeme Baker act, a federal law that requires the pool drain to be replaced or re-engineered to prevent entrapment. While Walker said some of it won’t be as visible to users of the pool, others certainly will be.

“It’s hard to do some of these things and keep the facility operating; we have to work out a strategy about it. I think the initial things that are going to be most noticeable immediately are some ADA compliance and code improvements that have been long overdue,” said Walker. “There’s also the federal law we’re trying to get in compliance with. That’s going to take a little bit of time, but we’re hoping in a six-month time frame. A lot of the things we’re trying to work on are behind the scenes, trying to keep it running. So we’re spending a lot of time looking at the pump system and trying to figure out what the best way to go is, to keep the facility running.”

Walker said getting into compliance with the Baker Act is going to have the greatest impact on the pool. Currently, King County is still working out how pools will have to meet the new standard, but officials will need a day to evaluate it.

“Depending on what they ask us to do, it could be anywhere from another day to a couple of weeks,” said Walker, adding they are doing their best, with only bits of information at the moment, to find as non-disruptive solution as possible.

Swimmers on the Island will notice that the schedule and programs offered at Mary Wayte, including the staff, are largely the same.

“We’re happy about that,” said Walker of keeping the staff on. “We’re probably going to bring in a couple of additional resources, but the core is here and they do a great job, and will continue that.”

While OCA is largely concerned at the moment with the day-to-day running of the pool and getting on top of things in its first few weeks at the helm, Walker and Godfred said they hope OCA’s two-year agreement can allow for longer discussion about what to do in the future.

“I really think one of the other pieces of what everyone was trying to do in this community was stabilize this situation and also engage in the conversation: what do we do from here? This was a short-term solution,” said Walker. “I think that’s something that everyone on the Island should be engaged in. This is a good long-term community resource, but it’s not at a level that Mercer Island needs. That’s going to be the next focal point. If we can be good partners, I think everybody wins.”

OCA will be in charge of pool operations until Dec. 31, 2012. Walker said one of their biggest goals for the short-term is keeping the pool open and making sure it’s a safe and comfortable atmosphere, but also encouraging people to come check it out.

“We want to see more people at the pool,” said Walker.

Visit the pool Web site for information about programs and schedules at the pool.

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