The Problem With D.C.'s Premier Pool

Instead of serving all of the people all of the time as it did for several years, D.C.'s premier public pool serves some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people any of the time.


Very. But after the D.C. government opened the Wilson Aquatic Center in 2009, a state of the art public facility with a 50-meter indoor pool that attracted people from all over the city, the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) decided to switch things around in 2011. They decided it shouldn't be just a 50-meter pool, but a 25-yard pool, too. Even though it hosts a popular, shorter lap lane pool in another area of the facility.

Now, D.C.'s premier pool has multiple personalities -- make that "lane configurations" -- switching back and forth from 50 meters to 25 yards, which has wreaked havoc among the majority of Wilson's swimmers. Because in addition to being a very short swim, the 25-yard lanes are narrow with little room to pass; perfect for a hand-jab in the face of a swimmer coming in the opposite direction or getting a good frog kick in the stomach by a breaststroker. It also means that hours of swimming time are forsaken so the life guards can haul the long, bulky lane lines from vertical to horizontal set-ups.

For about two years, the Wilson pool was a wonderful 50-meter course from early morning to evening closing, making a diverse, significant majority of the swimming public very happy. I know, because when a DPR staffer told me DPR was going to convert the pool to 25 yards at certain times, I launched the Save the Wilson 50 petition to preserve the 50-meter configuration, which has more than 1440 signatures -- a number that leveled off only after the lane-switching policy was put into place and people were temporarily at a loss about how to advocate. DPR's subsequent decision to alternate pool lengths was especially confounding given their own survey found the vast majority of D.C. residents preferred the pool configured at 50 meters.

As a result, DPR's premier pool is only partially premier. Despite media coverage about the issue and extensive communications by 50-meter supporters with DPR, Mayor Vincent Gray and other public officials, DPR decided the pool should be configured in a 25-yard course, according to a ludicrous, alternating schedule.

Why? Because a handful of disgruntled neighborhood constituents endlessly harangued DPR about the length of D.C.'s premier pool with claims that people couldn't swim 50 meters and students needed a 25-yard pool. Funny, schools rent lanes in the Wilson pool when it's configured in 50 meters. In fact, I spoke with a girl in the locker room, who swims with the middle school team, the "Sea Devils," who was happy the coach rented two lanes of the pool for 50-meter practices.

Meanwhile, the swimming population thins out during 25-yard set-ups, and some people have stopped going to Wilson altogether. However, 50-meter advocates aren't giving up, and resolutely try to meet with intractable public officials about DPR's 50-25 blunder.

Come on, DPR, didn't you like having a premier aquatic center?