By Tim Leeds/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Officials at Montana State University-Northern said they are looking at ways to reduce the cost of operating the swimming pool at Northern but have no plans to close it right now.
"Anytime you look at any of the budget items, you try to analyze their worth and expense," said Byron Ophus, who took over as athletics director at Northern last spring. "That's as far as we have gotten."
University spokesman Jim Potter said Chancellor Alex Capdeville "has decided he doesn't want to do anything right now."
"We need to take some time with it," he added.
Potter said the university is analyzing all campus expenses. The pool is running a yearly deficit of about $60,000, he said.
"We're looking at a ton of options," he added.
Pamela Wilson, who manages the pool for Northern, said students have told her they are concerned that the pool will be filled in and the area remodeled, possibly to provide a new training room for Northern's wrestlers.
Wrestling coach David Ray said Monday the university has no plans to move the wrestling room into the space where the pool is.
"If it goes anywhere, it might be where the weight room is," he added.
The wrestlers now use a space in Morgan Hall as a training room.
Mark Samson, Northern's head football coach, said the university may move the weight room to an empty room in the gymnasium and convert the current weight room into a wrestling practice room. The change wouldn't involve the pool, he said.
He said he's heard a rumor that the pool would be filled in to provide a new wrestling training room.
"That's like the biggest rumor," he said. "It gets bigger and bigger. I know there's nothing going on (to close the pool) in the plans right now."
Michael Welch, who managed Northern's pool from 1985 to 2000, said he still uses the pool when he can. He said the pool and other parts of the gym are often closed, during much of the weekend, during holidays and during athletic events at the gym.
"I use the facility all the time when it's available, but it's never available," he said.
He added that he doesn't blame Ophus, who took over only recently.
The university remodeled the pool in 1993 so it could stay open, but doesn't schedule enough hours for the public to use it, he said.
"I see a tremendous asset there they aren't using," Welch said.
Wilson, who is the outdoor recreation, intramurals and aquatics director at Northern, said quite a few people from Northern and off-campus use the facility.
"It's going to pick up now that it's warmer again," she added.
Wilson said that in March about 100 students, faculty and staff from Northern used the pool each week, and about 130 people from off-campus used it.
Northern students pay an activity fee as part of their registration fee that allows them to use the gymnasium, including the pool, during its scheduled hours. University faculty and staffers can use the facility for free. People from off-campus can pay a daily fee - $2 for an adult or $1.50 for children 16 and under - or buy a pass. The passes cost $200 for an adult or $100 for a child for one year, or $70 for an adult and $35 for a child for a semester.
Use of the pool has picked up in the three years she has been director, Wilson said. Most of the increase is from off-campus, while the on-campus use has stayed about level, she said.
In addition to the classes and individual users of the pool, several groups come in on a regular schedule, Wilson said. The Davey elementary school east of Havre has started using it, and students in Havre's Head Start program and from schools in Box Elder and Rocky Boy as well as the Boys & Girls Club from Box Elder each bring 10 to 20 people to the pool every week.
An aqua aerobics class held during evenings attracts about 15 people each session. The class is for staffers at the university and Northern Montana Health Care, but is open to others who pay a fee, she said.
Other use is for her classes, which each have about 20 students, and open periods during the week, including lap swimming from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and recreational swimming 7 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. People sometimes reserve the pool for special use as well, Wilson said.