On March 1, the historic swimming pool at the DeKoven Center, 600 21st St., will close its doors. And with its closing comes the end of an era in which countless people of all ages spent time learning to swim, exercising, celebrating and simply enjoying the unique surroundings of what is one of the first indoor pools built in the Midwest.
The DeKoven Foundation’s board announced the closing of the 100-year-old pool earlier this week, naming “increased state and federal regulations, prohibitive cost structures and availability of qualified staff” as components that will prevent the center from managing the pool’s operations efficiently and successfully.
It was a decision that did not come lightly, and one that has weighed heavily on the Board of Directors, as well as the executive director of the retreat and conference center, Max Dershem.
“For the past three years, the board has devoted much time and energy in examining options that would allow the pool to remain open,” he said.
In the end, though, factors such as the cost of heating and insuring the pool, as well as meeting new regulations that require lifeguards to be on duty during swim lessons, were beyond the budget of the nonprofit organization, Dershem explained.
News of the closing came as a shock to some of its most loyal users, many of whom feel a deep connection to the one-of-a-kind pool, with its hand-cut, Italian mosaic tile and the 6-foot-tall windows that surround it, giving swimmers a scenic view of the DeKoven grounds.
Denise Zingg, who has been swimming early morning laps there since the pool was renovated and rededicated in 1990, described it as a peaceful and rejuvenating place.
“It is a small pool, but perfect for things like aquacise and yoga swim,” said the owner of the nearby Spectrum School of the Arts and Gallery. “It seems almost healing to me.”
Barb Merrill, one of DeKoven’s aquacise instructors, also described the pool as much more than a convenient place to work out. In just the three years she’s taught there, Merrill said she’s not only seen people build their strength and endurance, but develop friendships that extend beyond class time.
The “girls” — as Merrill, 63, calls the mostly retirees in her class — were very disappointed to hear the news of the pool’s closing, said the Mount Pleasant resident.
“They don’t come just for the exercise, but for the companionship and the chance to let loose and feel young again,” Merrill said. “They feel like they’ve lost something.”
And aquacise classes are just one of the many types of community programs that have been offered at the DeKoven pool through the years, Merrill said.
“It has affected so many people, in so many different areas,” she said.
Zingg said she is still hoping for “some kind of miracle” that might allow the pool to remain open.
“I’ve been a swimmer since I was five years old — swimming is such an important part of my life,” Zingg said. “And now I’m not sure where I’ll go.”
She said she’d be willing to be part of whatever kind of community effort there might be to save the DeKoven pool.
“There is no other pool like it,” Zingg said. “I do hope that something can be done to keep it going.”