July 31, 2008

One Campus in the Swim, Other Adds Gym

By Richard T. Estrada, The Modesto Bee, Calif.

Jul. 31--OAKDALE -- Andrew Van Cleave is looking forward to the day he can walk from his last class of the day and be in the pool just minutes later.

"That would be a lot of fun, being able to practice on campus," the Oakdale High junior said. "It would save time, and I think we'd have more kids try swimming."

Swimming for the Mustangs requires a commitment: The high school and Oakdale's public pool are on opposite ends of town, so kids drive or car-pool to practice.

It's been that way for a generation of swimmers -- the water polo program began a few years ago and also practices at the 50-year-old pool -- but it should come to an end in the fall of 2010.

The Oakdale school district confirmed Tuesday that it will build a $2.3 million pool and aquatics center on campus. It will be next to the school's two gymnasiums and the football stadium.

Oakdale doesn't have a monopoly on fitness awareness. Neighboring Riverbank is building a $12.9 million, 29,000-square-foot gymnasium at its high school.

At its new pool, Oakdale will be capable of holding swim and water polo practice simultaneously, Assistant Superintendent Tim Hern said.

The pool will be 25 yards wide and 34 meters long, allowing 14 lanes of racing across the width -- 25-yard pools are standard for high school events. Much of the pool will be 7 feet deep, making it eligible for water polo, too.

"The priority is that it fits the needs of the high school," Hern said. "The state (physical education) code talks about swimming as a way to keep kids healthy, so we'll use it for P.E. classes, too."

In Riverbank, the new high school gym is taking shape, and Superintendent Ken Geisick says the Bruins' basketball teams could be using it by February.

"It will seat at least 1,400, a big jump from what we can do now," said Geisick, noting that the existing gym is nearly 40 years old and seats only 500. "It's a modern facility and it will allow us to hold rallies where we can seat the entire school, about 800 kids."

The existing gym will remain -- the new facility is going up alongside it, at the south end of the campus. Both gyms will be available for public use.

"Rather than cram people into a small, old gym, we're going to provide a comfortable place for watching our teams," he added.

Oakdale's project also has a convenience factor.

The Mustangs' aquatics program began in the early 1980s, said swim coach Russ Van Cleave (Andrew's father), and it's a struggle to draw swimmers because the pool isn't on campus.

"Being able to offer swimming for P.E., we're going to find kids who turn out to be talented swimmers," the coach said. "It will make life easier for the kids, too.

"Water polo practice could end as late as 7 because teams share a smaller pool. Now, they could be done by 5:30 and home by 6."

The pool will be available for age-group swim teams and other community events, Hern said.

The pool has been on the district's wish list for years, Hern said. Developer fees and money saved on other projects, he said, will pay for the pool. The district hopes to hire a contractor and begin construction this fall.

Bee staff writer Richard T. Estrada can be reached at [email protected] or 578-2304.


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