An aging swim center in the East Bay that has been the second home for many world-class swimmers, including some Olympians, is in danger of losing its prized pool if it can't raise enough money for an overhaul.
The Clarke Memorial Swim Center at Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek needs major repairs. Its filtration system breaks down, and the facility is outdated. And while the city has a renovation plan in place, the 50-meter pool is not part of the project. Some say that will force thousands of potential champion swimmers to leave Walnut Creek.
"What we have is a very nice swim center that was built 40 years ago," said Mike Heaney, of the Walnut Creek Aquatic Foundation. But without a 50-meter pool, he says, "it will hurt our ability to teach lessons in the city of Walnut Creek. Our programs would have to move outside of the city."
The city is spending $6 million to revitalize the 44-year-old facility. It will include a family recreational pool and a 25-meter pool. But it needs at least $3 million more to rebuild the 50-meter pool.
"Because they have so much invested in the outcome, we are asking them to step up and help raise funds," Mayor Loella Haskew said.
Heaney says swimmers already generate about $200,000 in annual revenue, but the foundation doesn't have $3 million.
Swimmers such as Dean Harper have fond memories of training at Clarke Memorial.
"I met my wife here and have witnessed champions emerge out of this pool, dozens and dozens of Olympic qualifiers," he says.
Harper says he would hate to see that tradition of quality go away.
"You are not going to get the Olympians because they are not going to want to swim here," he says. "They are going to a facility where they have a 50-meter pool."
Swimmers say they are going to begin the tall task of trying to raise the $3 million to preserve the pool and the program.
The city says the renovation project for the swim center is still in the planning phase, with no construction start date yet scheduled.