By Joe Zavala
Ashland Daily Tidings
ASHLAND — A massive $29 million remodeling of Southern Oregon University’s McNeal Pavilion will dramatically change the school’s athletic complex. Some of that change will come from subtraction, as the architects’ current model eliminates the university’s pool.
“The pool is not going to make it. It’s not in the current program,” said Drew Gilliland, SOU’s director of facilities, planning, management and sustainability.
A concrete masonry and steel structure, McNeal was completed in its original form in 1957 before remodels and additions in 1966 and 1991 led to the current 120,000-square-foot facility. Now 57 years old, the mixed-use building is due to be replaced, minus the pool, with work scheduled to start next summer.
The pool was deemed not worth rebuilding or replacing, said Gilliland, because it was in bad shape and in a poor location with regard to a new Student Recreation Center that is part of the project. He also noted that SOU has no swim team and the pool is mostly used by high schools.
The decision to leave a pool out of the plans did not sit well with Cynthia Moscaritolo of the Rogue Valley Masters, a community-based swim team based in Ashland.
Moscaritolo said most of the student body does not know of the school’s plans to scrap the pool. She believes it will be a big loss for the community.
“It seems like the powers that be at SOU are trying hard to get rid of the pool because they don’t want the hassle of maintaining it anymore,” she said.
But Ryan Brown, SOU’s head of community and media relations, said the decision came at least in part from direction provided by university students.
“A large portion of the funding for that project is coming from student fees, and the student government through a survey asked about the pool,” Brown said in an email. “It doesn’t get used enough, and the result of that survey was not to include the pool in the funding for the new project. A majority of the students did not favor funding the pool.”
An assessment of McNeal conducted in 2008 recommended major repairs and maintenance to the entire McNeal Pavilion building, noting that the greatest concerns were fire and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) deficiencies. Another investigation in 2013 by ZCS Engineering concluded that there was corrosion in the steel columns and reinforcement embedded in the concrete walls. A second opinion confirmed the original assessment.
That means most of the building must be replaced, including the space now occupied by the main gym, an auxiliary gym, a dance studio and the pool.
Those components, minus the pool, are planned to be rebuilt from the ground up, says Gilliland. He emphasized that the architects’ plans are still in flux as parties make adjustments to avoid cost overruns.
The massive building project will cost $14.5 million for McNeal and $14.5 million for the new adjacent Student Recreation Center. It uses two architectural firms, working together, with the recreation center being designed by Sink Combs Dethlefs Architects in Colorado and McNeal being designed by Straus & Seibert Architects of Medford.
During an Associated Students of Southern Oregon University meeting on Monday a group of Masters Swimmers, including Moscaritolo, pleaded with ASSOU board to reconsider eliminating the pool. Moscaritolo even brought an architectural design she drew herself which includes a deck patio along the retrofitted pool. She was disappointed with the reaction.
“I thought it was a nice drawing and they would smile or something, but everyone just stared and looked bored,” she said. “I think they feel like they don’t have the power, or they just don’t care.”
The student fees committee decided not to pursue the matter because, according to information provided in a Senate meeting the following night, the pool was ranked low on surveys completed by students. That survey reported that renovating the pool would cost $2.5 million to $3 million, a number Moscaritolo disputes.
“The truth is,” she said, “it would only cost $750,000 to $850,000 to retrofit the pool. What they didn’t state (in the survey) was that they also had to put in some locker rooms. So what I’m saying is I know there’s enough wiggle room in a ($29 million) budget to include $750,000 for pool-related things.”