September 3, 2020
Student-athlete and junior Anne Fletcher can't think of a better way to finish her swimming career at UNF than training and competing in a new pool on campus. "I was told on my recruiting trip of the possibility of having a pool by my senior year, so seeing that become a reality is extremely exciting," Fletcher said.
Seeing was believing in late August when construction fences went up and equipment began moving dirt to make way for a new athletic complex that will include a 50-meter Olympic-size concrete pool with nine swim lanes, along with LED scoreboard and competition timing system. Plans also include three buildings with workspace for lifeguards, changing area, restrooms, pool equipment and pool storage, and space for a swim team locker facility.
Located behind the Student Wellness Complex and adjacent to the Softball Stadium and the Field House, the new swimming complex is expected to be completed in June 2021. When it opens, after an eight-year wait, the 24 swimmers in UNF's NCAA Division I Women's Swimming program will have the ability to train and compete on campus instead of traveling to area high school pools.
In addition to the swim team, all student-athletes and University students will have access to the pool. Ashley Ballard, senior director of Recreation and Wellness, said that although no detailed plans have been finalized, students will have access to the new pool through Recreation and Wellness. "As of now, RecWell and Athletics have been slated to jointly manage the pool," Ballard said. "We are very excited about partnering with Athletics on this facility."
A Home of Their Own
If all goes as planned, Coach Ian Coffey expects his team to be swimming in the new pool this time next year. "Our swimmers are looking forward to having a home of their own," Coffey said. "This will cut down on a lot of driving, and also it brings a different atmosphere knowing that this is our pool, this is our home, this is where we train, this is where we'll have our competitions, which makes the program more visible to the campus community."
Since joining UNF as head swim coach in 2014, Coffey has been commuting with the team to area pools, first Episcopal High School for two and a half years, then at The Bolles School, where the team now practices. The previous campus pool, the Andy W. Sears pool, was closed in 2013 due to the magnitude of needed repairs. The Field House, an indoor facility for recreational basketball and volleyball, now stands in that location.
Despite the inconvenience of traveling to practice and competitions, UNF's swimming program has added new school records and improved each year. In February 2019, UNF concluded the CCSA Championships with 15 swimmers in the finals, the best finish for the Ospreys in program history. In addition, five swimmers competed in the 2019 National Invitational Championship held at Cleveland State.
"It's really a testament to our student athletes," Coffey said. "They do very well in school, they work hard in the pool, they really don't care that they have to drive somewhere and they all understand what goals are of the program." Yet, there is no doubt for the coach that the new pool will be a plus for recruiting. "It's really going to bring a new aspect to our recruiting, because this will now be the focal point," Coffey said.
Meeting Title IX Requirements
Athletic Director Lee Moon has been hoping for the new pool since the old one was closed. In evaluating campus facilities, he said he's had two priorities to help the University meet its Title IX requirements and provide more opportunities for young women: adding a beach volleyball court and an NCAA competition pool. The beach volleyball court opened in February 2020, and planning for the pool has been ongoing since late 2018.
To begin that planning, UNF formed a building committee with representatives from Athletics, Recreation and Wellness and Student Government. In August of 2019, UNF selected Borelli + Partners, a Florida architecture and design firm, and a month later hired Ajax to manage the construction. Funding for the pool was provided through UNF's Capital Improvement Fund. The Guaranteed Maximum Price awarded has been set at $8.26 million.
Though it's been a long time coming, Moon said he expects that seeing shovels in ground and tractors moving dirt around finally will make the project seem real to everyone. "Having a vision and seeing a rendering can be thrilling, but when the actual construction begins on a project, that's when and where the true joy and excitement arrive," Moon said.