The team of 20 kids, ages 5-17, have used the pool for nearly five years for practices led by coaches Todd Adams and Mike McLehan, both swim instructors certified by "USA Swimming," a national governing body for the sport.
On Monday, Steve Gromack, the center's aquatic director, informed the coaches on the advice of City Attorney Ryan Lane that their use of the pool represented a liability based on water temperature guidelines for competitive swim practice.
General guidelines for competitive swim team training recommend 82 degrees or lower. Bloomfield's 25-yard, multi-use pool was set at 87 degrees, which is within the range recommended for varied use.
When a few team parents asked Gromack to compromise by lowering the temperature to 85 degrees, citing complaints by their kids and other parents that the pool was too warm, they claim the aquatic director told them there was nothing he could do.
Last December, team parents Kristi Lucero and Sheri Korte decided to contact Mayor Scott Eckstein and City Manager David Fuqua to discuss a possible temperature change. Korte and Lucero said the temperature change would not only benefit swimmers but also represent a cost-savings to taxpayers. The parents were told that a compromise would be reached and the pool's temperature would be lowered to 85 degrees gradually over a
But Lucero said that the temperature was lowered over a two-day period, drawing complaints from swimmers in the general public who felt the water was too cold.
"We were happy the city agreed to lower the temperature, but the timeline to make the change they set wasn't followed, which obviously upset people," Lucero said.
In the meantime, the city attorney had researched water temperatures and discovered there could be liability issues. A temperature of 82 degrees or lower is considered safe for competitive swimming.
So, the city felt it had two options -- lower the pool's temperature to 82 degrees and allow the team to continue practicing or maintain it at 85 degrees and deprive the team of its practice lanes.
"Unfortunately, the team is greatly outnumbered by customers who use the pool for general recreation and exercise," Gromack said. "We have to consider safety for the kids. They are welcome to continue to use the pool, but not as a competitive team."
Adams called all the team families to deliver the bad news. He disputes the claim that the team can't practice safely in the pool.
"It's like any sport -- you adjust to the conditions in which you practice," Adams said. "We adjusted to the warm water with routine breaks and constant hydration. Our team doesn't practice as much as others we compete with around the state. But we have never had an injury or accident."
Korte feels the city attorney has made an unfair blanket decision against the team based solely on the fact that it is competitive.
"The city doesn't know how hard or lightly our kids swim during practices," Korte said. "The truth is that for competitive-level work we use the pool in Farmington, which is set at 81 degrees."
She also cried foul over the city's legal liability claim since she said all team members pay annual membership fees to USA Swimming, which includes liability insurance.
Despite the USA Swimming liability policy the city says it still could be held responsible if someone on the team developed a health problem during a practice.
"While I understand the parents' frustrations, the city cannot stand over the shoulder of the swim team, so to speak, and gauge when a practice crosses the line from mild to intense," Lane said in an email. "The city is not in a position to judge what constitutes an intense practice' and what does not. The fact is, given the data concerning safe pool temperatures and the city's decision to keep the pool temperature at 85 degrees, the city would be putting the swim team members and the city itself at risk by continuing to allow the competitive swim team to practice at the Bloomfield pool."
But the decision is cold comfort to the families and coaches who have practiced in the pool for years.
"This is the first time I've ever been kicked out of anyplace for doing good things for kids," Adams said. "We have had three state champions and won numerous medals representing Bloomfield at State Championship swim meets."
Lucero said her daughter, who has hip dysplasia, has found personal and competitive success during her five years on the team and feels betrayed by the city.
"This is about the kids, and it's robbing them of the activity they love," Lucero said.
The team has spent the week holding practices in Farmington, but the longer commute represents a hardship for many of the families who live as far as Blanco.
Korte said she is embittered over how a request for a temperature change resulted in the team losing use of the pool.
"The mayor, city manager, and various councilors were all receptive to lowering the temperature," Korte said. "And now look where we are."