Director of Campus Recreation Bill Goa said the campus recreation master plan is currently being reviewed, along with the functions of all indoor and outdoor facilities.
The master plan will assess if the 78-year-old indoor pool still fits the needs of students and whether it should be renovated or replaced with a more modern facility.
The pool, which was used to train naval troops for World War II, was donated to UNC along with Woollen Gym in 1937. Gordon Gray, who would be University president in the 1950s, and his family made the donation to honor his father, Bowman Gray Sr.
A bronze plaque commemorating Bowman Gray Sr. hangs on the far side of the pool above a lion’s head fountain.
Restoring the fountain
The fountain has not worked in more than 40 years.
Debra Murray, health education coordinator for the Department of Exercise and Sport Science, said during her time as the aquatics director, she took an interest in fixing the fountain.
“It’s a historical landmark and it’s something that has definitely been overlooked for a very long time,” Murray said. “The faceplate could basically not be seen from any distance and the fountain itself had no significance whatsoever. People were putting things in it just for storage.”
Murray wanted to make sure the pool’s benefactors and its history were still recognized.
“I think we come in for four years and then we leave and you don’t take a part of it with you, necessarily, unless as you’re walking around you see these things and it becomes a part of what you read or a part of what you walk past or it has some relevance,” Murray said.
“I want this University to always have relevance in my life.”
Murray enlisted the help of David Pape, a pool maintenance mechanic, to begin the fountain repair process.
Pape said the pipe that regulates the amount of water in the fountain has broken so many times that the inside of the fountain is damaged.
“We’ve always wanted to see this thing going. I think that the only people who have seen this work are probably dead now,” Pape said. “Hopefully by early spring the little lion’s mouth will have water coming out of it.”
Pape said he has been making repairs to the fountain on and off for more than two years. He succeeded in making it work temporarily two years ago.
Recently, he said he fixed the drainage system so the fountain recycles the pool water it uses instead of dumping it down the floor drains.
“So what they were doing was filling the fountain with perfectly good pool water and dumping it into the floor drains. I think that’s one of the reasons they shut the thing down,” Pape said. “So hopefully it’ll make it better, that we’re not wasting pool water.”
Future of the pool
Pape said he wants to save the pool.
“It’s sort of a battle between the people that like this pool, who have worked on this pool for years and years and the new folks that want to come in and turn it into something else,” Pape said.
Goa said according to a study that Campus Recreation gave to more than 3,000 students, people might prefer a facility that has more recreational functions, while Bowman Gray is only a basic natatorium.
“A lot of people have grown up going to Great Wolf Lodges and have recreational aquatics back in their homes and they’re more recreational and not just lap swimming,” Goa said.
Goa said no major renovations would happen for several years, if at all. He said the pool’s history is worth considering when deciding what happens to the facility.
“I’ve been on campus for a couple years now and it didn’t take me long to find out how much history and how far back that pool goes and how ingrained the swimming and aquatics programs have been at UNC over the last decades,” Goa said.
Michael Kirchner, swim club co-president, said temporarily closing Bowman Gray would put a strain on swim club, which uses the pool for its practices.
“We would probably have to look into the varsity pool’s availability at being able to host us,” Kirchner said. “We’d probably have to have less practices per week, higher dues. With such an old pool it’s always a possibility.”
Kirchner said it would be worthwhile to remodel the pool.
“They (could) renovate it to have better measures of time and probably have a better ventilation system, because it can get muggy in there pretty easily,” Kirchner said.
“I imagine if you renovated it, you could have better control of the chemicals in the pool. I personally think the chlorine in the pool right now is way too high.”
Director of Aquatics Catherine Ayers said it is impressive that Bowman Gray Memorial Pool has withstood the test of time.
“They made the pool with a whole lot of rebar and cement and the shell looks sound and has been sound all this time,” Ayers said. “So I think it is safe and I think it would be worth renovating it, but building materials and things that they did in 1938 are different than what we do now, so it’s just about bringing it up to a modern day standard.”
“Personally, I think there’s something to be said about keeping the history. Our University is so old and has so much to tell, so many stories, and this is part of that because it’s lasted this long.”