The drowning of a pool
The recently closed Linsey pool has a complicated history
By the end of 1967, all students at Brandeis had taken a swim in the Linsey pool. In fact, they were required to do it. For 28 years until 1995, swimming was considered such an important and necessary part of a Brandeis student's education that in order to graduate, every student had to pass a mandatory swim test.Currently, a majority of Brandeis students have never even seen the Linsey pool, let alone taken a swim in it. Closed in October 2008 because of heating and ventilation problems, the Linsey pool has sat decaying in its own disrepair for nearly two years. While the facility was once an integral part of the Brandeis and greater Waltham community, it will soon become a memory. There are no official plans for its renovation, and by next year, not a single class at Brandeis will remember a time when the pool was anything more than a budgetary and political issue.
The Linsey pool opened in 1966 as a result of donations from organized-crime-giant-turned-philanthropist Joseph Linsey, according to the Brandeis University Archives and Special Collections. While Linsey was once a notorious bootlegger, toward the end of his life he donated millions to the University. That year, the University added a swim test as one of its mandatory requirements based on a prototype established by Harvard University and other surrounding universities, according to swim team coach Jim Zotz. There are also rumors that the swim test was designed to be congruous with the University's Jewish values based on a quote in the Talmud that lists a father's obligations to his son: "Some say, to teach him to swim, too."
Two years later, in 1968, the varsity swim team was started. Over the course of its 42-year run, it became a team that could boast 71 NCAA Division III National Championship qualifying performances, 30 All-University Athletic Association performers and 15 NCAA Division III All-American performances. Zotz coached the Brandeis swim team for 33 years until it was officially suspended at the end of the 2009-2010 season. For much of that time, the pool was ridden with heating and ventilation problems. Although throughout the years there were several plans to renovate the pool, none of those plans ever came to fruition.
"The pool had slowly been going into a state of disrepair," says Zotz. "My feeling was, based on the responses [I would get] when I would make recommendations, that the University administrators felt it didn't make sense to put money into the pool because, in the future, they would be building a new one. So they were more selective about what they would be taking care of."
The initial plan for repair was in 1988, when the University began arranging a full renovation of the Gosman Sports and Convocation Center. However, when the University got to its final stages of planning, it pushed back repairing the pool to a later date for financial reasons.
"Well, there was a point in time where initially, when they were putting together plans for the Gosman center, the pool was part of that," says Zotz. "When they were getting near the final stage of planning, looking at how much money they had, there was a discussion of a 'phase two' and pushing [renovation of] the pool back. ... At that point, the pool was only 20 years old, so it made sense. ... I said "You're right, we're not pressed right now."
Still, when those"phase two" renovations began, the pool was left untouched, once again due to lack of funding. Around this time, the required swim test was also eliminated for budgetary reasons.
"I think back, and I think, boy, the worst thing was probably dropping that swim test, because it didn't give the kind of urgency that we wanted in getting this thing fixed," says Zotz. Soon it began to be clear that the pool would need major repairs in the near future. Sheryl Sousa '90, director of Athletics, began approaching the Board of Trustees with descriptions of the pool's problems around 2004, according to Zotz. While discussions about repairs were continually pushed off, Zotz believes that the breakdown of the pool could not have come at a worse time.
In October 2008, the pool's heating and ventilation problems had become so severe that it was deemed unusable by both the swim team and the administration: the University was suffering from the harsh effects of the economic downturn.
"I believe that had the pool broken 6 to 8 months earlier, ... the University would have immediately started working on it," says Zotz.
Estimates of how much money is necessary to fix the pool vary. According to an e-mail to the Justice from Senior Vice President for Communications Andrew Gully, "To repair the pool and and reopen the facility for recreational use ... would cost an estimated $2.4 million. ... To complete the repairs described above but adding a fuller renovation of the pool ... is estimated at $10 million- $12 million."Additionally, "To raze the existing facility and build a new, NCAA-compliant facility is estimated at $24 million to $30 million," writes Gully.
Renovations aside, operating the pool costs $500,000 "in annual pool carrying costs," such as heat (air and water), utilities, supplies, on-going maintenance and janitorial services, etc," writes Gully.However, there was a time when the swim team generated revenue for the University. During the '80s, the University would rent out the Linsey pool to neighboring club swim teams, which Zotz estimates would cost $30,000 per team in one year. The University ended this program in the '90s in order to extend free swim hours for students.
Gully describes this revenue as "modest especially when measured against our annual carrying costs." However, he says that if they were to renovate the pool in the future, reinstating the program is something they would consider.
Zotz speculates about whether certain sources of money specifically designated for pool repairs have been overlooked. He says he knows of documents from pool donors Lou and Lutza Smith that promise to "donate money that would go toward renovations or be used toward the building of a new pool," according to a Justice article from Nov. 18, 2009. He also believes that Linsey's will has a clause promising money for the pool.
Zotz says he "will believe [that the documents exist] and the people who told me [of the documents] until the day I die. Unfortunately the people who were involved [with the documents] are no longer here."
Thelma Linsey, Joseph Linsey's widow, denies that her late husband promised any money to the pool in his will.
"He absolutely did not leave anything for the pool. I wish he did," says Linsey. "He really didn't leave anything to any institutions. I wish there was something they could do. I know it's a big loss to the University."
Although nearly $30,000 has been raised by the former swim team for the pool through an alumni weekend and silent auction, according to Gully, "The status of the pool is unchanged."
Zotz remains eternally optimistic for the future of the pool and swim team and makes sure not to fault the administration for what has happened. He says there have been "all good intents throughout this whole process, but the University did drag its feet and unfortunately the wort-case scenario happened.