No Swim Zone

Concordia’s Lack of Pool Leaves Swimmers Stranded

  • For aspiring swimmers looking to pursue their university studies in English, McGill remains the only option in Quebec.  Photo Pierre Chauvin

  • For aspiring swimmers looking to pursue their university studies in English, McGill remains the only option in Quebec.  Photo Pierre Chauvin

  • For aspiring swimmers looking to pursue their university studies in English, McGill remains the only option in Quebec.  Photo Pierre Chauvin

Concordia’s plans to build a swimming pool have been floundering since the beginning.

From failed negotiations to cost-cutting measures, the swimming pool-sized hole in the university’s campus facilities has left its student-athletes with some tough choices to make.

Of the four universities on the island of Montreal, Concordia’s the only one without a pool and without a swim team, a fact that has made for slightly different priorities for Concordia compared to its neighbouring universities.

“The focus at Concordia has been primarily driving and building its academic campus,” said Concordia recreation and athletics director Katie Sheahan.

More specifically, building upon the foundation it already has.

“The priorities for our facility development have followed and mirrored where our existing competitive programs are,” said Sheahan. “We did not have a swim team before, so the notion of ranking that ahead of an area where we already had historical experience was naturally to come after those areas were completed.”

The original 1913 plans for the west end of the Loyola campus included a pool, but it was eventually scrapped to trim costs.

The university looked for other ways to dip their toes in the water four years ago when the Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce borough was planning its community pool, making several proposals for a joint project—but by the time they contacted the committee, it was too late.

“There had been long-standing plans that would have had to be completely revamped to accommodate Concordia’s requests at the time,” Sheahan said. “There were very healthy dialogues between both organizations, but in the end the council went forward with their original plans.”

And Concordia went ahead with its own, opening the Stinger Dome in 2009, the PERFORM Centre health research facility in 2011 and looking to complete renovations on the Ed Meagher Arena by the end of this year.

“Most of the master plans considered for the development of recreation and athletics facilities over the past 25-plus years have included a pool,” said Sheahan. “Knowing that the development of such facility in the future would require government funding, and that government funds were invested just recently in the new community pool just a few blocks away, we have to be realistic that it may not be for some time that we could expect to attract funding to this component.”

“We have to be realistic that it may not be for some time that we could expect to attract funding to this component.”
–Katie Sheahan, Concordia Recreation and Athletics Director

While Sheahan didn’t specify when Concordia students could expect to see one on campus, she did note that if the university were ever to build a pool, it would be as multipurpose as possible.

“The pool scenario of yesteryear has evolved,” said Sheahan. “There needs to be access to the community, more family-oriented spaces—those are the factors in the architecture.

“We need to prepare for the next generation of big developments and plan not for the next five years but for the next fifty.”

Only when those preparations come to the forefront of Concordia’s priorities will the university consider offering a swim team.

“It’s necessary to have the proper infrastructure,” said Sheahan. “With the level that swimming is at in the country, you can’t just get by without your own facility.

“You’re either all in or you’re not.”

A Pool of Talent

Peter Carpenter, the McGill swim team’s head coach, thinks that if Concordia were to have a team, it would take off.

“I think there would be growing pains, like when anything starts up,” he said. “But with the amount of swimmers already enrolled at Concordia, there would be a nucleus to start with. It might take a while to make a full-sized team, but I don’t think it would take long at all for Concordia to become a fully competitive team.

“To have a cross-town rivalry with a school, swimming-wise, would be fun.”

The absence of a swim team at the university has forced some students to choose between their athletics and education. Concordia is the only English university in Quebec to offer such programs as creative writing, journalism, communications and leisure sciences.

It certainly wasn’t an easy decision for Natalia Kalbarczyk, who swam through high school for Pointe-Claire, and continued her swimming career at John Abbott College.

She would have liked to continue her swimming career through university; however she was disappointed to hear that Concordia, the only school to not have a pool, was the only one that offered her program of choice, Leisure Sciences.

“I had looked at going to McGill,” said Kalbarczyk. “Most of my friends went there to swim, but none of the programs seemed interesting.”

She isn’t alone. Alexander Whitehead is another Concordia student who has been swimming since as far back as he could remember, but gave up the sport when he enrolled at the university.

“If Concordia had a team, I’d be the first one in line to join,” said Whitehead, who’s majoring in Child Studies and qualified for junior nationals at 17 years old.

Not all prospective students are willing to give up on their swimming careers so easily.

Former John Abbott College swimmer and current member of the Dollard-des-Ormeaux swim team Edi Bouazza is applying for university in the fall and has his sights set on McGill and Concordia—in that order.

“Concordia is taking a backseat to McGill because they don’t have a [swim] team,” he said.

If Bouazza wants to compete at the highest level, he’ll need a university-level swim team that can help him reach it.

Unfortunately for Bouazza—or other aspiring swimmers—that university won’t be Concordia any time soon.

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