The abrupt closure of the Bozeman Swim Center has wreaked havoc on training schedules for youth, college-bound and professional athletes and upended workout routines for casual swimmers.
Dozens of swimmers, parents and coaches showed up to Bozeman City Hall on Tuesday to plead with the city to act fast on repairs to the Swim Center, which the city closed last week due to issues discovered in the building’s roof and walls.
The facility is the only publicly accessible indoor pool in Bozeman, and is used by high school teams, youth swim clubs, a synchronized swimming group, aerobics classes and lap swimmers, among others.
Several of those who spoke on Tuesday said they have had longstanding complaints with the facility, including staffing shortages and its HVAC system, for which the city was getting started on repair work when the structural issues were discovered.
“I must say I’ve been ashamed of the mismanagement of our pool for many years,” said Christel Chvilicek, who has kids in the Bozeman Brookies Swim Team. “I’m honestly not shocked this has happened. We need to do better.”
Chvilicek said the Brookies team was hiking the M trail on Tuesday in lieu of their regularly scheduled swimming practice.
She read a series of quotes from kids on the team, including one from an 11-year-old who said they wished Bozeman took swimming “as serious and treated it like all sports.”
Several people who spoke during public comment questioned whether the closure was even necessary.
Mihelich opened the meeting by describing in detail the city’s decision to close the facility, and said he is “very comfortable” with the move. The last assessment the city did of the roof structure was in 2012, Mihelich said, when no deficiencies were found.
Local firm Morrison-Maierle did inspections in January and April of this year, and found the structural adequacy of the building’s roof is compromised, due to “deep checking/splitting” in 18 of the 48 roof trusses as well as mild to moderate checking, rust, moisture damage and discoloration throughout the roof structure.
The report also details the building’s western wall being out of plumb. A letter from the city’s Chief Building Official Ben Abbey said the walls “appear to be separating from each other at both the northwest and southwest corners of the building.”
Abbey’s letter states that heavy snow or a seismic event could cause the building to collapse.
“What could have happened if we didn’t order those additional inspections and we didn’t close the facility, and we experienced that heavy wet snow that I described to you during a popular swim lesson is the roof could have collapsed and dozens of people could have died,” Mihelich said. “So I’m very comfortable with the decision that we made to close the Swim Center.”
The pool’s closure is already impacting athletes.
Professional triathlete Haley Chura said she drove to Butte on Tuesday to swim, but said the solution isn’t sustainable. Chura said the pool’s closure is pushing her to consider moving out of Bozeman.
“This is my job, I also coach. This is my career and I can’t do that here,” Chura said. “This is a big deal to me.”
Several youth athletes spoke during public comment as well.
High school swimmer Annika Mittelsteadt shared statements from some of her teammates, including one who noted the pool’s closure comes just after kids were finally moving past the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mittelsteadt urged the city to move forward quickly with plans for a new pool facility on the west side of town.
“We have continuously made the city aware of our concerns that the day would come that the Bozeman Swim Center … would be shut down indefinitely,” Mittelsteadt said. “Despite our efforts, the Bozeman swim community has been ignored for years.”
Others pushed the city to address the issue as quickly as possible. City Manager Jeff Mihelich said the city is hoping to get Bogert Pool open in two weeks, and is working with private pool owners — like hotels or gyms — to schedule aerobics classes.
“We’re painfully aware of how many people use the Swim Center,” Mihelich said.
There are no pool spaces open at Montana State University as its aquatic facility was damaged in a roof collapse in 2019. That facility is targeted to reopen in fall 2023, a spokesperson said.
Mihelich said the city on Thursday would be opening up bids for work that was planned to the facility prior to its closure, which will now include analyzing potential repair possibilities for the roof and walls.
During a budget discussion later in the meeting, Mihelich said they are looking at options to pay for the repairs, including the general fund and American Rescue Plan Act funds. He said he will likely suggest the city look at its contingency funds — though he said he wouldn’t commit to that Tuesday.
“If there was ever a rainy day, this is it, and that’s exactly what contingency funds are available for,” Mihelich said.