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SOU pool in deep water

Efforts to raise enough money to keep the Southern Oregon University pool in service after July — may be sinking, user groups say.

Under a provisional plan to cut $4 million in costs from the university's budget, the SOU pool is set to close at the end of the fiscal year. The university athletics department offered stakeholders the opportunity to pay $86,000 per year to keep the pool operating along with a $25,000 security deposit. The 50-year-old pool has had problems remaining open for years now, and groups who use it are looking to a more permanent solution.

Todd Lantry, president of the Rogue Valley Masters board of directors, said the team &

who uses the pool more frequently than anyone else &

doesn't have enough money to save the pool itself. And if they did, they would prefer to use it toward a new facility rather than repairing an old one.

"The team has voted together that we'd rather put that money toward a capital project," Lantry said.

Other facilities like the YMCA, Daniel Meyer Pool and Superior Athletic Club could provide other places to train until the Wes Howard project in Medford is built. Plans are still in the works to build a sports facility at Ross Lane and Rossanley Drive.

In the meantime, high school swim teams, clubs and other users will have to find somewhere else to go if they cannot come up with the money.

"It's a hard deadline really, and it's a short period of time," Lantry said.

The high school teams, with nowhere to train, would be the hardest hit, he said.

SOU Athletic Director Dennis Francois said the pool's closure would be unfortunate for local teams, but the university cannot continue to fund the ailing facility. Francois told the Mail Tribune in January that the university only recoups about 5 percent of its $70,000 annual operating costs in user fees for the pool. Keeping it open, he said, doesn't make sense for the university because the aging pool costs so much to repair and operate.

"It really is a great place," Francois said. "It's a great facility with a great set-up, but it's 50 years old."

He said if groups come up with the $25,000 security deposit to keep the pool open, they could make monthly payments for the operational costs.

Supporters and users of the SOU pool in the McNeal Pavilion sent comments to university President Mary Cullinan.

Jo French Sr., a youth sports advocate and father-in-law of a local swim coach, sent comments asking the university to keep the pool open for at least a few years. He said the president's January provisional plan was released at the height of the high school swim season and didn't offer enough time for the community to coordinate a communal response.

French recommended the university keep the pool open for the next few years with increased user fees and university subsidization. He said potential students from around the state use the pool every year.

"I feel it would be in the University's best interest and suggest that alienation of the source of potential students through precipitate pool closure would be self defeating to your goal of increasing enrollment," French wrote.

Three aquatics groups &

Ashland High School Aquatics, Rogue Valley Masters and Southern Oregon Water Polo &

sent a letter to Ashland Parks and Recreation Director Don Robertson, asking for help possibly using the Daniel Meyer Pool as a year-round facility.

More ideas float, but time is running out for the SOU pool. The SOU pool is distinguished from others in the area, such as at YMCAs and athletic clubs, because it's deep enough to dive into from starting blocks. That enables sanctioned meets that recognize times and records to be held there.

Aquatics enthusiasts, like Lantry, may have a pool in the future, but it could be a rocky few years.

"I think the interim time period is the hardest to find out," Lantry said.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x 227 or .