WEST FARGO – By next year, swimmers here could be racing in the same pool where Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte battled to qualify for the 2016 Olympics.
A local swim group has purchased the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials competition pool that will be built inside the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb., for the trials June 26-July 3. The pool will be broken down and moved to West Fargo after the completion of the trials, at which the top U.S. swimmers -- including Lochte and Phelps, the most-decorated Olympian ever -- will face off to determine who represents the U.S. this summer at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
UP Aquatics, a regional group of swim supporters, will buy the pool for $900,000 and then donate it to the West Fargo School District, said UP Aquatics President Lance Bergstrom. The district is planning to build a new $18.5 million competitive pool facility approved by voters Nov. 17 as part of a $98.1 million bond referendum.
Karen Nitzkorski, lead fundraiser for UP Aquatics, said the group put a $200,000 deposit down on the Myrtha pool and will pay the balance by June 26.
The 54-meter pool, built by Myrtha Pools USA, will be assembled at the CenturyLink Center piece by piece by 100 people over about five days, Bergstrom said. It can then be taken apart and moved to a permanent location, something that has become a tradition in American swimming. The 2004 Olympic qualifying pool is now in Long Beach, Calif., the 2008 pool went to Virginia and the 2012 pool is in Boston.
Construction on the West Fargo pool facility, which will be known as the Hulbert Aquatic Facility, is scheduled to start this spring at L.E. Berger Elementary School, 631 4th Ave. E., and be finished by 2017. UP Aquatics is raising $4 million for enhancements to the facility, in addition to what the West Fargo School District will contribute.
“It will be the nicest facility from Chicago to Seattle,” Bergstrom said. “There’s nothing like it in the Midwest.”
The school district’s bonded amount was only enough to pay for a roughly 51-meter pool with one bulkhead. School board members agreed that if UP Aquatics can raise enough money, with a goal of $4 million, it can be used to increase the pool size and add a separate diving well.
The district’s agreement with UP Aquatics allows the group to donate the $4 million in cash or physical items, such as the pool, said West Fargo Schools Business Manager Mark Lemer.
“They’re contributions can be equipment or cash, either or,” he said.
District officials expect to receive final architectural designs for the aquatic facility at the end of the month that will include the larger pool, a warm-water practice pool, one dive well in the deep end of the pool and seating for 1,200.
The pool will be large enough to accommodate both West Fargo high schools and high-level competitions. UP Aquatics plans to have two moveable bulkheads in its 54-meter pool that will allow simultaneous activities in separate areas. The warm-water pool can be used by seniors and for public swim lessons.
“This pool is going to get used a lot,” Bergstrom said.
Superintendent David Flowers said the district’s current pool inside L.E. Berger will be remodeled into a warm-water practice pool and other recreational space.
“We have to finish the big pool first, and when that is operational we can renovate the existing pool area,” Flowers said.
There are plans to add parking near the facility and to use existing parking on the north side of the school and at nearby West Fargo High School for large events.
According to the Myrtha Pools USA website, the company has been building pools for more than 50 years in 70 countries for international competitions and Olympic games. The company touts a patented pool construction that is built to have a “virtually unlimited life span that eliminates traditional problems of pool construction and maintenance.”
“It’s basically the Lamborghini or Ferrari of pools,” Bergstrom said.
UP Aquatics has raised just shy of $3 million, including a $1 million donation from the Hulbert family. In December, the West Fargo School Board agreed to name the pool after the Hulbert family, which has been active in swimming and diving for four generations.
Bergstrom said UP Aquatics is still looking for corporate and private donations and sponsorships.
Bergstrom, a Fargo native and eye doctor who has long been active in swimming, has advocated for a new aquatic facility in the metro for nearly a decade. He said the new facility could attract not just regional, but national competitions and events.
Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte are top contenders for the U.S. Men’s team. Lochte holds the world record in the 200-meter individual medley and Phelps is the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total of 22 medals in three Olympiads, including 18 gold medals.
Donations for the pool can be made at www. swimwestfargo.com