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Swim Center Closed “Indefinitely” By Safety, Structural, Equipment Problems

As training for the summer Olympics is starting, Santa Clara’s International Swim Center (ISC) closed on Jan. 12 “until further notice” until safety, health and equipment problems are resolved.

The shutdown was a surprise to Santa Clara Swim Club members.

“We had regular practices and classes on Thursday,” said Santa Clara Swim Club manager Kevin Zacher. “Then, on Friday morning, when people arrived, there were signs and caution tape. We reached out to the City, and they were very responsive. But it’s frustrating they didn’t let us know earlier.”

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For 20 years, city councils were regularly warned that the ISC had reached the end of its lifespan, and in recent years pool closures have become regular events. Last summer, City Manager Jovan Grogan said that “significant deferred maintenance” had led to “significant challenges” in keeping the Swim Center open.

The City hired design architects LPA, Inc., Aquatic Design Group, and structural engineers SGH to assess the ISC’s condition, identify deficiencies and evaluate compliance with health, safety, and building standards, according to a City statement.

At a review meeting with Grogan and Acting Director of Parks & Recreation Cynthia Bojorquez, the consultants recommended closing the ISC until the safety and structural concerns were remedied. Following the meeting, the city manager directed staff to shut down the ISC pending the consultant’s final report.

The final report will be presented at the Jan. 30 city council meeting. The City isn’t making any forecast about how long the ISC will be closed.

For now, the City has provided alternatives for ISC users. Lap swimming and some Santa Clara Swim Club classes and training have moved to Mary Gomez pool, which is just a quarter of the size of the ISC competition pool.

“The main [ISC] competition pool has 23 lanes,” said Zacher. “Mary Gomez has six. We can’t do Olympic qualifiers in Mary Gomez.”

For the more than 1,500 students, swimmers in training and master swimmers the Santa Clara Swim Club serves, it’s a major disruption to their lives.

“The impact is devastating and heartbreaking,” said Zacher. “The daily routines of training, it’s a big part of our students’ lives. We also have swimmers training for the Olympics.

“We have to travel all over the South Bay to find places to train,” he continued. “Last summer we had to go to San José [when the ISC shutdown for repairs]. It was only 10 miles as the crow flies, but it would take an hour to an hour and a half to get there. That’s simply not feasible.”

Nonetheless, the ISC’s shutdown isn’t going to deal a defeat to the Swim Club’s young swimmers, says Zacher.

“We’re going to find a way,” he said. “It’s too important to our swimmers’ dreams and ambitions. It’ll be difficult, but we’ll find a way. We’ve been partners with the City for a long time and we want to help find a way to get the swim center back in operation.”

Zacher added, “There are folks out there who support swimming. We could sure use their help in any form or fashion — financial, volunteering, whatever they can do to help.”

A Sad Fate for a Fabled Sports Venue

When it opened in 1967, the Mercury News described the Swim Center as the “world’s most modern aquatic complex” [1967 Mercury ISC first meet] and “one of the principal swim centers of the world” as the ISC hosted the International Invitational Swim Meet of that year [1967 Mercury ISC winner]. In 1969, it hosted the world’s largest swim meet and was featured on NBC’s Wide World of Sports [1969 Mercury isc 1st TV broadcast].*

“It’s sad,” said Zacher. “When it was built, it was the crown jewel of the City. The City is still known for swim excellence around the world. It’s sad that a city known for swim excellence doesn’t have any pools that live up to the standards that have been set. Hopefully, we’ll find solutions.”

The City’s Complete Jan. 16 Statement on the ISC Closure

In August 2023, the City retained the consultant team of LPA, Inc., Aquatic Design Group and SGH to conduct an assessment of the structural and operational components of the George F. Haines International Swim Center. The purpose of this review was to assess the current conditions of the facility, to identify deficiencies and to evaluate compliance with applicable health, safety, and building standards.

On January 11, 2024, the consultant team met with City Manager Jovan Grogan and Assistant City Manager/Acting Director of the Parks and Recreation Department Cynthia Bojorquez to review their preliminary findings. 

The consultant team recommended that the facility not be used until such time repairs or replacement could be implemented that address safety and structural concerns noted in their report. Out of an abundance of caution, the City Manager directed staff to close the facility immediately pending the completion and presentation of the consultant’s final report. 

The final report will be publicly available as part of the January 30th City Council meeting agenda packet. In the interim, staff is in communication with the affected user groups to identify needs and assist them in developing a transition plan. At this point, the length of the closure is unknown and dependent upon further review of the assessment findings. Consequently, a determination regarding next steps will be evaluated in the coming weeks.

*Special Note: Newspaper clippings came from the San José Library’s 1900-1985 Mercury News archive, made possible by a legacy gift in memory of Susan Renzel Carter. It’s available online with a San José library card.

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5 Comments
  1. SC Resident 6 months ago
    Reply

    It really doesn’t seem like the public is being given the full picture here.

    Would love to see actual numbers of what the Santa Clara Swim Club contributes to the upkeep and rent of the pools that they seemingly have exclusive use of. How many of the 1500 members are Santa Clara residents? All across Santa Clara other youth organizations, run 100% by volunteers and over 90% SC resident participation, are being asked to pay more and more for the use of facilities, is part of the problem that they have been profiting off of the city subsidizing the facility?

    Their 2022 tax filings show at least 4 people making over $100,000/year with one over $260,000/year. Over $1.5M spent on people costs, but from it looks like only around $200,000 towards rent/pools.
    https://projects.propublica.org/nonprofits/organizations/941432138/202312869349301961/full

  2. Common Sense 6 months ago
    Reply

    Great America opened its gates in 1976 and will permently close them by 2033 at the latest, less than 10 year away. Exponentially more people have visited and have fond memories at Great America than at the ISC. Times change, if the Santa Clara Swim Club can’t figure out how to pay enough rent for the modernization and upkeep of the facility and if residents aren’t using it enough to generate sustaining revenue, then it needs to shut down and alternatives for the property sought.

  3. Swimmer 6 months ago
    Reply

    I’ve been swimming there for 23 years. I’d like to see the report coming out on the 30th. they should keep the pool open until them. How is it we cannot maintain a pool the cost of which to build was easily found more than 50 years ago.

  4. Nick 6 months ago
    Reply

    This has been an issue that clearly the people utilizing the ISC have not been the best stewards and now find themselves in a rough spot. With that much claimed usage I would think someone would have earmarked maintenance funding to keep this from happening. Unfortunate outcome but you also have to do better business at some point and the city can only subsidize so much.

  5. Steve 6 months ago
    Reply

    This pool was built to last 30 years and everyone is complaining that now that it is over 50 years old and finally has to be shut down that somehow it has been mismanaged and neglected?

    I think that the Santa Clara Maintenance Department should get a medal and be recognized for keeping this pool open for as long as they did.

    Additionally, the various clubs using this pool have been trying for close to 15 years to raise funds for a new pool even going so far as to have conceptual designs completed but the city was unable or unwilling to put this in front of the taxpayers instead giving the money to the 49ers.

    The only good thing is that these clubs have been planning for this for some time and have put away at least some money to rent alternative venues and maybe with the pool finally unusable and closed the city will prioritize its replacement.

    So sad to see such a public jewel come to an end.
    Let’s all hope for a bright new future

    God bless

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