From nationally recognized high school swimmers and divers to middle schoolers who are relatively new to the sport, Cactus Pool is a hub for swimmers of all ages and skill levels.
The pool and its connected facilities could be in line for a major renovation if voters approve all or part of the City of Scottsdale’s 3-question, $319-million bond request this fall.
The Cactus pool project is slated to receive up to $31.2 million if voters approve the question dealing with parks, recreation and senior services, which includes 14 projects costing $112.6 million.
Much of the proposed renovation will deal with alleviating overcrowding at the pool, Assistant City Manager Bill Murphy said.
Since the pool opened in 1987, interest in swimming has continually increased, leading to more swimmers using the pool – and giving some student swimmers a headache.
“Sometimes when it’s really congested, I feel trapped and it sometimes gives me a headache because I’m so claustrophobic sometimes,” said 12-year-old Keshav Mopati, a northern Scottsdale resident and Sunrise Middle School seventh-grader.
Murphy said Cactus Pool currently hosts three high schools – Chaparral, Cactus Shadows and Scottsdale Christian Academy – and the Scottsdale Aquatic Club.
The pool also hosts the Sun Devils Masters program and a synchronized swim team in addition to recreational users.
Overall, the pool hosts 144,000 people annually and that number is expected to rise 3-5 percent each year, according to the city.
“Throughout the day, from 6 in the morning until 8 at night, it’s busy,” Murphy said.
Keshav said the crowded lanes have negatively impacted his training.
“I think one of the issues with Cactus Pool are the lanes,” said Keshav, who has also been a member of the Scottsdale Aquatic Club, or SAC, for four years. “There are a lot of people and sometimes there’s only two lanes for over 30 people, which is hectic.”
Founded in 1964, SAC has 450 members who use Cactus Pool six days a week for about six hours per day.
According to Head Coach and Scottsdale resident Kevin Zacher, due to the notably increased interest in swimming in Scottsdale over the past five years, swimmers need more space – more water – to accommodate not only SAC members and student swimmers, but also residents who swim recreationally.
Passing the bond would not only help alleviate the crowding, scheduling conflicts and various other limitations, he said, but also create more water to provide more diverse programming.
“I certainly am in favor of the bond,” Zacher said. “We’ve got a lot of young folks who are really getting into swimming and we want to provide an avenue for them to pursue that passion.”
If voters approve the bond, the pool could undergo a massive reconstruction that would replace the existing pool with three separate pools for a dive tank, competitive lap swimming and lessons, allowing the city to schedule more users for different activities at once, Murphy said.
The project would also replace the Cactus Pool building, providing new restrooms, a family restroom and expanded office space for staffing and lifeguards.
Not all Scottsdale residents think the city should spend $32 million in bond funds on the pool upgrades, though.
Resident Emily Austin said the city should consider offsetting the cost of the pool upgrade using bed tax funds since the new facility will likely boost tourism by attracting more swim-related events.
The city stated in its information packet on the project that it could result in increased events.
“Since these meets often attract participants from out of the area, there will be an increase in economic impact. Partnerships are already in place that will draw such events and meets to Scottsdale once the facility is in place to host them,” according to the packet.
Still, Zacher pointed out, much of the time the facility is currently used by local swim clubs and high schools that are asking for more space.
For 17-year-old Erica Esterly, who is on Pinnacle High School’s swim team, Cactus Pool is particularly congested when the pool is in long course.
“There are only eight lanes, so often it’ll be 20 people to a lane. It’s just very inconvenient, especially in the mornings when master swimmers are there,” she said.
Austin also took issue with some incorrect information – circulated by at least one member of the pro-bond For the Best Scottsdale political action committee – suggesting that Cactus Pool is “loaded with asbestos.”
Murphy shot down those rumors and said the city tested all plaster removed from the pool during previous renovations and has not encountered any asbestos.
According to Murphy, the oldest pool plaster still present at Cactus pool is from 1999, years after asbestos was removed from the plaster making process.
For Murphy and many of the swimmers that spoke with the Progress, overcrowding is the real concern.
“The space constraint or like the number of swimmers per lane is a top criticism, complaint or concern that parents have because of the impact on the quality of the training that they’re receiving,” said Brian Esterly, SAC Board President and Erica’s father.
Another concern, particularly for 16-year-old diver Chaparral High School’s Girls Swim and Dive Team, Bella Posorske, is the lack of a bubbler, which breaks the surface tension of the water and allows for a softer landing.
“The bubbler may not seem like a big deal, and it’s not really expensive, from my understanding, but it’s absolutely a game-changer for a diver because these divers will get bruised up,” said Jen Posorske, Bella’s mother.
Bella, a junior, has been on the high school’s team for three years but diving since 2011.
Aside from the missing bubbler, Bella has noticed a lack of storage for personal belongings.
“We don’t have any storage for any of our bags, so everything just goes on the ground and it gets wet all the time,” she said.
Not only does congestion impact the student swimmers’ quality of training, but it also leads to scheduling conflicts.
“Public programming is the first priority. High school programming is second on the list. Sponsored teams, generally organizations like ours who’ve had long relationships with the city, are third on the list. And then fourth come outside interested user groups,” Zacher explained.
Keshav’s father, Krishna Mopati, said he drives 20 miles out of his way to Chaparral Aquatic Center once a week because of the scheduling.
Cactus Pool’s locker room and gym also have proven to pose problems, particularly for Erica, whose swim team is composed of about 55 to 60 students.
“There’s a lot of people in there and we also run into issues with other groups being in there, so a lot of the time, we can’t use the locker rooms to change or anything. None of us use it to shower because there’s too many people with the divers and the younger kids in there. It’s just very crowded. No one wants to be in there,” Erica said.
As for the gym, Erica said she and her teammates are allowed 45 minutes for their workouts.
“We have very tight allowance at time,” she said. “We get most of our work done, but a lot of times my friends and I don’t get all the way through the workout, and we have to move out for other groups coming in.”
Many parents and students agree that passing the proposed Cactus Project would, overall, make the experience more user-friendly.
“It would make it a lot more convenient for the swimmers and allow us to get through our workouts more thoroughly and more efficiently,” Erica said.
Plus, increasing capacity, improving the layout and improving the Cactus Aquatic & Fitness Center facilities would allow the current teams to have more time to improve their skills.
Scottsdale Aquatic Club and Chaparral High School both already boast nationally-ranked swim teams.
The Chaparral girls' swim and dive team was ranked #1 in its class by the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association over the summer. The boys' team was ranked #9.
Over the last five years, Zacher said SAC has had more than 100 swimmers go on to swimming at universities around the country and return as leaders in the community.
Bella plans to continue diving in college.
“Diving really takes up the majority of my time in the best way possible,” she said. “It keeps me motivated and focused, and it’s helped my grades stay high. It’s just a healthy way to spend my time.”