$1-Million Loan Floats School in Birmingham: Owners: Goldfish a First in Michigan

By Jennifer Dixon, Detroit Free Press

Mar. 21–Despite Michigan’s tough economy, Jenny Vanker McCuiston and her husband, Chris McCuiston, persuaded Comerica Bank to lend them nearly $1 million to convert part of an aging warehouse in Birmingham’s rail district into a swim school.

They say the Goldfish Swim School is the first of its kind in Michigan. It opened Monday, with babies and toddlers splashing into the 90-degree water for the first classes.

Vanker McCuiston, 26, got the idea from a fellow swimmer at the University of Arizona, whose parents had two swim schools in California.

She grew up in Birmingham, learned to swim at 3, and began swimming competitively at 5. She met Chris at Birmingham’s Seaholm High School and got her degree in early childhood education at Arizona. After graduation, she returned to Michigan, married Chris, and coached swimmers at the Birmingham Athletic Club.

Her schedule was packed with swim classes, and she said she started thinking about opening her own business. She and Chris, also 26, a finance major at Michigan State University, considered using a pool at a hotel, but then decided, she said, “Why not go big?”

The couple spent two years working on their plans. They traveled to Arizona and California, Wisconsin and Minnesota to look at other swim schools. They approached Comerica about the financing. And they found a home for their school in a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Birmingham that is also being turned into offices for orthodontists. Construction on the swim school began in November, and includes a water purification system that does not leave the water — and swimmers — smelling of chlorine.

Goldfish has two pools — one 28-by-54 feet, the other, for teaching babies, is 15-by-30 feet. Both are 4 feet deep.

They say they’ll keep the water at 90 degrees — and the air at 90 to 92 degrees — to avoid shivering kids. And there is plenty of light.

Classes will be open to children as young as 6 months up to adults. Classes are offered every half hour Monday through Saturday, and will be kept small: no more than six babies, or four children, to a class.

The school will have stroke clinics, a recreational swim team, family swim times and lap swimming. Private lessons also will be available. The school has 13 instructors. Shortly before it opened, 425 students had signed up, Vanker McCuiston said.

Sue Mackie, executive director of the United States Swim School Association, a trade association based in suburban Phoenix, said swim schools are different than fitness centers that happen to teach swimming. She said the Goldfish Swim School is the association’s only Michigan member. The association represents about 300 swim schools.

The school’s grand opening is at 5:30 p.m. Friday; Olympic gold medalist Amanda Beard will be on hand.

For information about class schedules and hours, go to www.goldfishswimschool.com.

Contact JENNIFER DIXON at 313-223-4410.

photo

Cole Hurley, 4, of Beverly Hills learns to kick as he stays afloat with the help of a barbell and instructor Annie Johnson, 20, of Bloomfield Hills in the Aquatots class at the Goldfish Swim School in Birmingham on Monday. (Photos by PATRICIA BECK/Detroit Free Press)

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